Editor’s Note: Volnay Bistro is no longer open for business.
Once in a while it just feels good to get gussied up and blow a wad of bills on a great dinner. It feels just as good to eat well in jeans and pair of tennis shoes.
Though at Volnay Bistro, at least make sure your jeans are clean and wrinkle-free, because the food here demands respect and appreciation, and, at times, awe.
Although unmistakably a fine dining restaurant at night, its tables cleanly draped in traditional white tablecloths and efficiently scraped of crumbs between courses, Volnay doesn’t exude a stuffy ambiance that promotes sitting with a stiff spine. The service was friendly and unstuffy, and a notch below formal. When our waiter fumbled to explain to a neighboring table why they had run out of baguette (complimentary and served upon arrival) just after 8 pm, I felt inclined to adopt a French accent and chime in, “Ah, so it is, no? It’s only bread.” But then I recalled ripping into a chunk of the crusty baguette before my drink arrived… and how the warm, pillowy, butter-slathered center set off every tastebud in my mouth like mini landmines. I felt sorry for the table of five. So it is.
The Twin Cities has plenty of good, bad, and ugly American fare-serving restaurants, so it’s always a pleasure to welcome an establishment, like Volnay Bistro, that serves truly traditional cultural cuisine. Volnay caters to French sensibilities. Nestled just off the main drag on the corner of Lake and Broadway in downtown Wayzata, the bistro is cozy and relaxed with a continuous rumble of energy beneath its dimly lit and dark-walled surface. Large windows (and a bakery case that, after the sun sets, glows like a pot of gold at the end of rainbow) brighten up the space and open onto the outdoor patio, which offers undisturbed views of Lake Minnetonka.
Keeping with the French theme, the menu is in both French and English, a nice touch. Four white wines and four reds of various repute and price are offered by the glass, and I was a little disappointed that not a single champagne was offered by the glass as well. So it is.
What has to be Volnay’s most delectable starter is the Seared Mango Foie Gras ($19), a colorful plate of silky, rich, pudding-dense duck livers, seared just enough to give the outer layers a gossamer-light crisp. Once pierced, the foie gras’ natural juices and oils mingle with the sweet orange reduction, raisins, tart apple pieces, and caramelized mango slices, producing a veritable flavor explosion you’ll want to hold in your mouth and ponder and savor like an expensive red wine you’ve been saving for years. The most picky eater will close her eyes and sigh with deep pleasure after popping a forkful of this creamy delicacy past her lips. Dip hunks of baguette into the succulent, greasy remains of the plate, for it should be a crime to let even a single drop of this orgasmic dish go undigested.
For those who may opt for a lighter, less sinful start to their dinners, there’s the Salade de Lavande ($11): a jumbly mound of mixed greens in a lavender vinaigrette, roquefort crumbles, and diced mango, and flanked by two goat cheese / mozzarella “turnovers” wrapped in flaky phyllo to resemble miniature, baked packages. Faint lavender vapors lingered in my mouth once I had finished the salad — the flavor of the herb more pronounced than while I was eating the salad itself. I almost didn’t want to squelch the light perfume by having a main course. All in all, a delicately flavorful salad punched up with salty roquefort and the fresh tones of ripe mango. Unconventional to boot, the Salade de Lavande is hearty enough to satisfy lighter appetites as an entree.
With such impressive starts, it’s reasonable to expect the main courses to ascend to yet a higher plane of culinary existence. The Saint-Jacques ($25), a traditional dish of scallops in a port reduction cream sauce — while delicious — did not quite reach its full potential.
The Saint-Jacques, also called Coquilles Saint-Jacques (a dish so beloved, apparently May 16 is National Coquille Saint-Jacques Day), is served elsewhere as an appetizer in the scallop shells and topped with grated cheese. At Volnay, the dish bulks up to entree proportions as three thick scallops set on a runway of mascarpone risotto. The scallops were tender and seared perfectly, with a light dousing of the peppery port reduction cream sauce, sauteed mushrooms, and chopped, fresh green onions. Glistening and seared to a warm blonde hue, they seemed to promise another landmine of flavor but fared on the bland side. The prominently creamy tinge of the risotto, while terribly good on its own, did nothing to rev up flavor of the scallops. It was gooey, cheesy, and sticky like porridge, though, earning it some bonus points. All that said, the Saint-Jacques was good, and shellfish lovers will enjoy it, but the dish doesn’t knock the ball out of the park. The pairings don’t quite complement each other… each flavor: the sauce, the scallops, the rice, the reduction not quite disparate enough to resonate with the tastebuds.
I also had a chance to try the magnanimous Filet Mignon Rossini, a decadent dish named after Gioachino Rossini, the famous opera composer who, legend has it, devised the dish on the fly while dining at the Cafe Anglais in Paris in the mid-1800s. His request? A filet mignon sauteed in butter, plopped on a sauteed crouton, then topped with foie gras, truffles, and a drizzle of Madeira sauce. That’s essentially how it’s served at Volnay, and it’s to die for.
Volnay’s generous cut is a two-inch tower of meat that threatens to dwarf even the plate on which it resides. The crunchy crouton (which I suspect was toasted versus sauteed) complements the creamy meat, which, because of its girth, could overpower all but the most ravenous appetites. A well-cooked steak, which the Rossini is, comes with its own succulence, but the tangy brown sauce accompaniment, faintly reminiscent of BBQ sauce, slathers this big hunk of love with the caress it needs to send it over the edge.
As full as you might be, it would be a mistake to turn down dessert at Volnay. The restaurant’s selections are mostly made by the previous tenant, Patrick’s Bakery. They include: cheesecake with raspberry sauce and Pineapple Madagascar, alongside French classics such as opera cake; delice passion cake; creme brulee (as well as a daily special); apple chibouste tart — layers of flaky, buttery pastry filled with silky custard and spiced apples; and, among many, many others, the dense-as-a-black hole, classic French creation: Feuillantine Pralinee. The dessert is a toasty, praline base that supports a cake of chocolate mousse so thick it could be used to spackle walls. A glossy cloak of dark chocolate as black as space holds it all together.
Bottom line: While the scallops were a mild disappointment, Volnay Bistro rates as a restaurant to visit if you appreciate artfully designed, memorable meals that are well worth the slightly steeper bill.
French cuisine in Wayzata
331 Broadway Ave S
Wayzata, MN 55391
CHEF: Anthony Herve
Breakfast: 7-11am; Lunch: 11am-4pm; Dinner: 5-10pm
Brunch Sat. and Sun. 7am-noon
BAR: Beer and wine
RESERVATIONS / RECOMMENDED: Yes / Yes
VEGETARIAN / VEGAN: If ordering from appetizer list, yes; entrees, no / no
ENTREE RANGE: $13-$34