On the outside it looks like a quaint French bistro you’d find on a street corner in Paris…
then you see the kitchen and it looks more like the take-out place that it started out as! Bistro Petit certainly isn’t what you’d imagine from a place serving traditional French food, with delivery and take-out accounting for a good chunk of its business and only a meager 10 seats in the cramped space. Then again, Bistro Petit makes no attempt to recreate traditional French cuisine. Chef Sung Park takes French dishes and without hesitation replaces many of the key ingredients with staples of Korean cooking, such as kimchi. The result is an amalgamation of flavour which cannot really be classified as fusion, since so many of the tastes and aromas are as typically Korean as one might find anywhere in K-town.
While the ambiance may not seem refined with such a cramped and informal space, the food would certainly hold its own against high-end dining in much more upscale locales, and observing the open kitchen at work is worthy of a ticket in itself. Chef Park is constantly talking and teaching in the kitchen and genuinely makes an effort to interact with his customers while at work. Time to explore Chef Park’s wacky world of Korean-French cuisine!
Things Roger Ate Like a Pig
Watermelon Salad – 4.5/6 (Very good – Excellent), $10
- Fresh watermelon with grilled halloumi cheese, pickled watermelon rind, mint, and spicy watermelon reduction sauce with a few drops of olive oil
Well after all that description of French-Korean combination in cooking, I went ahead and ordered a watermelon salad as my appy. Go figure. Actually, the watermelon salad was one thing highlighted by many reviewers as a highlight. Upon first glance, many of the ingredients do not deviate from the typical watermelon salad protocol: watermelon with mint and feta cheese. The halloumi cheese, a semi-soft Cypriot cheese, is known for its briny flavour and high melting point which allows it to be grilled. I found the slight briny flavour and grilled texture of the halloumi a much better paring with the juicy watermelon than feta. However, the mint aroma and taste however was not sufficiently strong, even though the mint appeared to be fresh.
The spicy watermelon reduction sauce looked like freshly pressed watermelon juice yet the taste initially reminded me of a spiced tomato puree. The tartness of the reduction added some diversity to the explosion of watermelon juice from the large watermelon slices, while the spices left a nice aftertaste that competed with the refreshing nature of the fruit.
The pickled watermelon rind, the Korean influence in this dish, served a similar taste purpose. Koreans love pickling their veggies (and not just cabbage for kimchi!). The rind, which is normally light and refreshing, was turned into an intense pocket of pickled juice goodness. My only complaint was that although the presentation of the rind as small cubes may have been visually appealing and easiest to prepare, a better combo of the flavours with the watermelon may have resulted from preparing the pickled rind in another form, perhaps a puree as an alternative to the spiced watermelon reduction? All in all, a great and refreshing way to start the meal.
Kimchi Bouillabaisse – 5.5/6 (Excellent – Must Try!), $19
- Bouillabaisse (French fish stew) with mussels, seared scallop, pollock, fried tofu puff, rice cake, kombu (seaweed), white wine, Korean chili paste, watercress, and kimchi
- Accompanied by olive oil glazed baguette for dipping
If the last dish didn’t have much Korean-ness, this one definitely didn’t hold back. My first impression of this dish was that Chef Park took a bouillabaisse and decided to add in kimchi hot pot with typical Asian ingredients. The broth was brilliantly savoury, with a strong umami taste from the seafood broth and the kombu (a component of dashi stock) that blended well with the chili paste, which added a mild level of spice to the mixture. All of the seafood, namely the plump mussels, flaky pollock, and seared scallop, was very fresh, although the scallop tasted a slight bit too rubbery perhaps as a result from cooking too long in the bouillabaisse stew.
Fried tofu puff is a favourite of mine in hot pots because of the manner by which it soaks up whatever yummy broth you have, infusing it with all the ingredients used in the dish. It did exactly that role here. The rice cakes were another great addition, although they were much more cooked and consequently slimey than one would find in ddukbokki, the Korean dish of spicy fried rice cakes. While the effects of the kimchi were certainly noticeable in the broth, the resulting cabbage in the stew had lost most of its original spice, leaving the bowl with slightly sour cabbage. Nevertheless this did a good job of cutting through the predominant spice in the other ingredients.
The watercress served the purpose of a refresher, cleansing the mouth of the broth with a bite without soaking up any broth. The baguette was great for soaking up more of the delicious broth, although I could have used without the olive oil drizzled on top as I found the bouillabaisse sufficiently rich as a dip. It was definitely worth the visit to try this all-star dish!
French Doughnut (Citrus flavour) – 3.5/6 (Good – Very good), $7 (5 pieces)
- Also available in Mint and Cinnamon flavours
This was the only dessert item on the menu and if you know me you know I can’t skip dessert! Plus it came recommended from my server so it was a must-try. These doughnuts were more accurately described as beignets, the French version of fried dough. The texture was completely different from an American doughnut though. The little sugar-dusted balls almost fell apart upon first bite, which goes to show how soft and airy these were. The insides of the beginets didn’t taste buttery or oily at all.
Balancing the lightness of the pastry was the intense (and I mean intense) citrus flavour sprinkled on. I was so surprised when I took a bite and felt like everything was doused in lemon juice! That being said, the citrus wasn’t a bad thing; it added a nice spark to the otherwise mild pastries although it may not be for those disliking citrusy things. I really appreciated how delicately these were made and thought the citrus sugar was as good as a topping as there could have been. However, I found the beignets still quite monotone in flavour. Compared to other beignets I would definitely give this a solid 5/6, but I prefer more complexity in my desserts and other options on the menu would have been welcomed. Maybe this just wasn’t my kind of dessert?
Bistro Petit puts a creative and unique Korean twist on French cooking. The quality of the food is excellent given the price, making it well worth the trip to Brooklyn. It’s not the most comfortable of dining spaces, but the show you get watching Chef Park cook makes up for it!
Date visited: Oct. 6, 2012
Price range: $40-50