Dunedin’s Parlour House Bistro nails what’s enchanting about authentic bistro dishes

Chef Ryan Steffensmeier’s new French restaurant is a cozy addition to the Dunedin scene.

click to enlarge JAMES OSTRAND

Parlor House Bistro

3.5 out of 5 stars

1757 Main St., Dunedin

727-754-3978; parlorhousebistro.com

Appetizers: $7-$22; entrees: $16-$37; desserts: $7-$13; wine/cocktails: $6-$16

When I pull into Weathersfield Commons from Route 580 in Dunedin, I see an old friend. It’s Delco—legendary for some of the region’s top Philly cheesesteaks. What’s surprising is that the shopping center is also now home to a rare bird. An honest-to-god real French bistro announcing its heritage with entry doors framing translucent glass inserts, which sport decorative fleur-de-lis.

Inside, there are rows of welcoming tables with crisp linens and tented black napkins sitting atop white china next to glistening stemware. The large wall of windows faces west for arresting views of clouds afire with the afterglow of sunset.

My heart skips a beat when I see that the Parlor House Bistro offers foie gras two ways. It just doesn't seem to fly for very long on menus around Tampa Bay. The restaurants that serve it when I’m reviewing sadly seem to pull it from their kitchens upon my return. I am an admitted devotee of French cuisine, though, and “foie” is one of the great delicacies of world gastronomy—sandwiched in between (for me) truffles and caviar. Of these three gastrodivas, it’s the most affordable luxury ingredient. Chef Ryan Steffensmeier really does it justice on a beautiful plate that almost looks too good to eat. The warm medallion is scored and quickly pan-seared to be paired with fanned green apple slices and an apple reduction to the left.     

On the right, a chilled torchon round cut from a poached cylinder (think lux pâté) sits atop parallel lines of orange gastrique with a pair of orange segments and two criss-crossed oblique cut toasted baguette rusks. It’s an appetizer that recalls Gascony, a province of southwestern France where foie gras reigns supreme.

The French onion soup is textbook. A white ceramic ramekin capped with a thick stringy layer of luscious Gruyère that yields to a giant crouton soaked through with steaming beefy stock filled with caramelized onions. No surprises, just Parisian comfort food. 

A long rectangular slate lines up six bite-sized crispy pork belly rounds beside a scrumptious wildflower honey sriracha that beautifully walks the knife’s edge between sweet and spicy. Bits of rich bleu cheese plus shreds of pickled celery root sit on top under a few microgreens. It’s simply delightful.

click to enlarge A chilled torchon round cut from a poached cylinder (think lux pâté) sits atop parallel lines of orange gastrique with a pair of orange segments and two criss-crossed oblique cut toasted baguette rusks. - JAMES OSTRAND
A chilled torchon round cut from a poached cylinder (think lux pâté) sits atop parallel lines of orange gastrique with a pair of orange segments and two criss-crossed oblique cut toasted baguette rusks.

Our entrees also deliver classic French bistro dishes in fine form. The super tender filet mignon has a perfectly-charred crust plus delightful green peppercorn cognac cream sauce with Lyonnaise potatoes and surprisingly full-flavored confit carrots with grill marks. When’s the last time carrots surprised you?

The duck leg-thigh confit with pistachios and garlic-laced potatoes sits on a schmear of braised root vegetable purée and a cherry-red ale reduction that provides a tart edge to balance the richness of the game bird.

The boneless skin-on fillet of flour-dusted rainbow trout is truly delectable. It’s surrounded by a melange of heirloom grape tomatoes, orange segments, crispy sage leaves, light Parisian gnocchi (pâte à choux cheese dumplings), and delicate shishito peppers blistered in brown butter. I am a happy man.

My companion’s perfectly rosy interlocked double cut rack of lamb chops sits atop luscious potato purée, and streaks of spinach-sage-almond pesto plus currant-port jam. It’s a colorful, tasty plate that ends up as a pile of carefully gnawed bones.

You rarely see crepes suzette on any menu nowadays, but it’s a French classic with a caramelized Grand Marnier butter sauce. Parlor House Bistro serves it with creamy house-churned vanilla ice cream and a dollop of fresh whipped cream. My problem is that in order to match the high quality of the previous dishes, this should be flambéed tableside in order for the crepes to reach the table hot—especially served with ice cream. 

The same is true of the rolled cherries jubilee crepe. The filling resembles preserves when whole cherries would elevate the port and amaretto flambé which needs to be freshly heated to complement the house-churned cherry ice cream. 

The dessert that really hits the mark is the warm doughnut-like French cruller topped with stout ice cream that’s velvety and balanced with an absolutely striking zigzag of decadent burnt butterscotch that I would gladly eat by the gallon. And the accompanying cappuccino is just right with voluminous cloud-like foam.

Chef Steffensmeier nails what’s enchanting about authentic bistro dishes. The service is casual, but attentive and the wine list affordable. And since I reside in Dunedin, my only conundrum is how often I can return for foie gras and still maintain my anonymity.

CL Food Critic Jon Palmer Claridge is the Bay area’s longest-running food critic and dines anonymously when reviewing. See his list of Tampa Bay’s 50 best restaurants of 2019, check out the explanation of his rating system and read his new book, 'Drink.More.Wine!'

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About The Author

Jon Palmer Claridge

Jon Palmer Claridge—Tampa Bay's longest running, and perhaps last anonymous, food critic—has spent his life following two enduring passions, theatre and fine dining. He trained as a theatre professional (BFA/Acting; MFA/Directing) while Mastering the Art of French Cooking from Julia Child as an avocation. He acted...
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