Le Bol: Charme Ordinaire
The sort of place that might inspire you to bring along a book and snack on croissants
Sunday night and nothing in the fridge. And not all that much in the pocket. Need to go out, but reality isn’t going to leave much room for wretched excess... it’s a night for Le Bol. This authentic French bistro on Vienna’s Neuer Markt offers the perfect compromise: It’s delicious, it’s simple, and both you and your wallet leave happy.
Tucked away in a modest corner of the market square, the low ceilings, soft lighting and depth of the restaurant, provide a cozy and pleasant atmosphere... the sort of place that might inspire you to bring along a book, drink coffee and snack on croissants for the better part of a day. Though it was around eight in the evening when we arrived, that’s exactly what I wanted to do.
"Bon soir!" A dainty French woman greeted us with a huge grin on her face. Suddenly I was lost in a whirlwind of the beautiful French language, as my Swiss-Italian friend fell into conversation in this one of his three native tongues. I didn’t mind though; French has a way of wooing me, and it all added to the ambiance of the charming little café.
The main room of the restaurant provided a plethora of sights, sounds and smells. To the left, a bar with the hum of grinding coffee beans, telephone conversations in French and the clinking of glasses filled with wine or espresso being readied for order. A family-style dining table took up the rest of the room, welcoming all comers the chance not only to eat heartily, but also to meet fellow diners in the process. A small pathway led to the back of the restaurant where three or four tables were placed for a more intimate dining experience.
The two of us sat down at one of these petite wooden tables toward the back of the restaurant. "Au nom de notre amour une ombre va rester" was painted on the wall behind us. "In the name of our love a shadow shall remain." How is that relevant to this restaurant, I wondered out loud.
"Food, France and sexuality are all the same thing," my friend responded, quite matter-of-factly. We had the food, we had France, and this phrase, along with the numerous couples so obviously in love, well, romance was all around.
After a bit more conversation in French, leaving me to dream of the (not so) far away Paris, we finally opened up our menus. Baguettes and tartines, along with numerous other salads, desserts and traditional French fare left me hopelessly indecisive. To expand our minds, we ordered a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc, a 2008 Réserve St. Martin from the south of France. It turned out to be quite dry, with aromas of blended citrus and significant lime notes. Very fresh and very French.
With a little help from the waitress, I decided on the Tartine Landaise, smoked duck with honey and caraway on a slice of black bread. My friend went with the Tartine St. Germain, the same concept as the Landaise, but with roastbeef, butter and tartar sauce. Both of these dishes came with a most surprising salad…its strangely citrus spicy taste could have made it a meal all on its own.
When the food was served, it was almost too beautiful to touch. The meal was a work of art, presented so perfectly, it looked as good as I soon discovered it tasted – a pleasant surprise at such a moderate price. The bread was layered with the honey and caraway, duck, and to complement, spiraled oranges and red and green grapes were placed on top with flawless precision, a rainbow of both color and taste. But still, it was simple, not trying to overwhelm with exotic seasoning and expensive ingredients. An almost minimalist use of combinations that was completely satisfying.
In addition to these wonderful tartines, the salads we received along with them were no ordinary salads. Yes, the vegetables were standard, onions, tomatoes, a mixture of field greens… But the dressing… oh, the dressing! – A sweet orange spiced mixture, with a secret ingredient our waitress would not give away, almost oriental… And we were left guessing as to what that one mysterious flavor could have been. That’s okay though, it gives us an excuse to keep coming back, narrowing down the spices each time until we finally discover what makes that particular vinaigrette so unique.
Full, but not too full, we decided it would only be right to have a dessert and drink a coffee in honor of the French. I ordered the Gâteau le Bol, a dense and moist chocolate cake with a sweet yogurt sauce, a combination I never would have put together on my own. The yogurt was perfect with such rich chocolate, better than a sweet and sticky icing that would only have made the taste too extreme. The Bombe au Chocolat, my friend’s choice, turned out to be a chocolate mousse with a crust (also chocolate), all drowned in cocoa powder. Chocoholic heaven!
My coffee was an experience in and of itself, a Café Basquais comprised of espresso and sweet milk, enhancing the taste of my cake, yet bringing the intensity down a notch and allowing me to taste the richness of the chocolate and the freshness of the yogurt sauce separately. I felt like saying "Ooh la la!" and smoking a cigarette. The French certainly know how it’s done.
This charming little café and bistro is undoubtedly a place to return to, and in fact, many of the guests are regulars. Next time we’ll go on a Saturday morning for breakfast, or perhaps in the afternoon to try their patisseries, or anything and everything else in between. It would be impossible to feel out of place here… casual or elegant work equally well. One comes here simply to enjoy the pleasures of the table, to eat well-prepared food, drink good wine and to share a little bit of the French savoir faire in the process. Bon appétit!
1., Neuer Markt 14
0699 1030 1899