A private table, nestled away from the madding crowd? Is that what you will find at Chez Renee when dining at this authentically French bistrot? “Not exactly, but very close to that,” says Chef Laurent Degois. He went on to say that he and his wife, Cathy, have placed partitions between tables, creating seating clusters for guests.
In addition to this currently-standard practice for most restaurants, Degois stated that his staff is seating parties of diners remotely from each other in the two dining areas of the restaurant. This strategic practice at times offers the effect of having a private table. “It depends on how many people (patrons) show up to dine. It is very irregular,” Degois said. Explaining, he offered that the normal rhythms of the dining-out scene have been replaced by unpredictability. Later weekdays and weekends are as important as ever, but the numbers are smaller. He suggested that diners out come to Chez Renee and experience the distanced and controlled setting that has been created at the eatery. Not quite the private table tucked away in an alcove, but close to that ambiance more times than not.
When you go there to dine, one of the menu items you may wish to consider (with a caution, to come) is Degois’ French version of the Italians’ risotto. Risotto, the Italian dish using specially grown rice, has been kicking around the Mediterranean since the 14th century. The creamy, hearty recipe found an adoptive home in Northern Italy, where “white” pasta dishes are the norm. Rice used for this dish is a variety called arborio, with grains being fat, football-shaped and often pearlized in appearance.
Given risotto’s history, it is only natural that the French would incorporate the dish into bistrot menus, which Degois has done. One of his menu versions features chorizo sausage, which spreads the ethnicity to Spain as well, giving the entrée a truly international pedigree. Sadly, chorizo is a sausage made with pork, and so, not on the menu for kosher-style Jewish diners out. There lies the caution, but all is not lost. Degois will adjust his risotto to meet the dietary needs of kosher-style diners. “We can do that, making the risotto all vegetable or substituting chicken or something for the chorizo. I make it (also) using corn (or mushrooms; see photo) and it is very good, very tasty,” he said.
From this observer’s perspective, risotto is one of those recipes that does not garner the interest, or respect, it deserves, at least here in the States. Yes, it is only rice, after all. But delicious, creamy, subtly intriguing rice. The basic recipe can be built into a dozen variations that fit the diner’s tastes and preferences. My favorite is mushroom risotto flavored with truffle oil. That said, I order it whenever the opportunity presents, and have even made risotto in my kitchen. When you see what goes into the recipe, and how easy are the variations you may achieve, is it any wonder Italians have created an annual festival to celebrate this classic dish? Il Festival Nazionale del Risotto is held in late October in Biella, Italy, west-northwest of Milan in the Piedmont region of Northern Italy. If ever I’m near at that time, I’ll go!
Even with risotto on the menu, for salmon-lovers the likes of me, it is difficult to pass up the salmon options on Chez Renee’s menu. One is the salmon bake, which features a generous portion of salmon baked with olive oil and served with house-made dill sauce on the side. This entrée includes a side dish, and my choice is the sauté of mushrooms and cabbage. If you were picking the side, it could be cauliflower, broccoli, kale parmesan, onion soup, mushroom soup, the du jour, or a few others.
Also, in the sandwich department, the evening menu includes varieties of cheese sandwiches and burgers—typical French bistrot options. Cheese sandwiches are much more in the classic French tradition than is so of their average American cousins; much more than indifferent cheese, slapped between slices of pedestrian bread, then grilled until the innards spill out. Called croques, these more appealing sandwiches feature fine French cheese, namely Gruyere, along with a bechamel sauce, which are placed on French challah bread and grilled. My favorite is the one with tomatoes as the accompaniment. There are three other versions as well. Burgers include both beef and salmon versions. My choice is the salmon “burger,” which is served with a dill weed and lemon sauce.
See you at Chez Renee!
Chez Renée French Bistrot
233 Main Street
Milford, OH 45150