Some women friends who meet regularly to speak French and enjoy French culinary experiences alerted me to ’62 Bistrot, a tiny luncheon and dinner spot on Hillview Street, which has become restaurant row in Sarasota’s Southside Village.
The women praised the authentic menu and the intimate room that seats 36. And they admired the typically French wallpaper, the gilt-framed mirrors, the petite rows of comfortable banquette seating, and the soft lighting and congenial service. The place looks both old and new, and owners Vanessa and Alexandre Caira will tell you that you could pick up their restaurant, drop it in any neighborhood in Paris and it would fit right in immediately.
The couple is from Bergerac in the southwestern Dordogne region of France. “I was working for a five-star hotel in Paris,” says Alexandre, “and several guests told me I should go to Florida to this beautiful city that has wonderful beaches and lots of arts and culture. So Vanessa and I began to explore Sarasota and we determined that it was the place for us to have our own restaurant and also to have a lovely life.”
In 2013, they bought an existing French eatery, redid the interior and made their own menu comprised of family dishes they grew up eating.
The menu is seasonal, with about a half dozen entrées on any given night, plus a nightly special or two. Additionally, a first course might be a rough-cut country paté, escargot, smoked salmon salad or French onion soup.
As in many French bistros, there’s always beef Bourguignon, a duck preparation, a chicken dish in cognac and mushroom sauce, a fresh fish filet tenderly pan-cooked in brown butter and lemon sauce, and usually scallops in a creamy lobster sauce. Sides are little chunks of roasted potato and a house vegetable mélange.
Crusty baguettes and one or two of the desserts are supplied by the owners’ friends at the Rendez Vous bakery on Clark Road. But the dessert crepe profiteroles and the crepe Suzette are made in-house. And on Thursdays, the owners serve their homemade canelé de Bordeaux. These individual two-bite fluted cakes have a caramelized outer crunchy and bittersweet shell that encloses a soft vanilla and rum-rich cake within. The owners say they’re too time-consuming to make every day.
At dinner, prix fixe meal options range from $29 to $34. And this summer the restaurant is offering a Savor Sarasota menu at off-season prices.
Cooking duck properly is practically a religion in France, and the ’62 Bistrot owners are devout practitioners. The other standout feature here is also typically French—exquisite sauces. Yes, they’re heavy on the cream and butter and often include a splash of alcohol. You may have sauce on the side if you worry about luxury overload. Or do what most guests do: Take all the sauce they give you and use baguette pieces for making the most of it.
The wines at the restaurant are French, drawing heavily from Bordeaux. There are a couple from the Bergerac region, too. Order by the bottle (about $29-$100) or the glass (about $8). French beers are available as well.
Lunch at ’62 Bistrot is a combination of salads, five different quiches and sandwiches (including the traditional croque-monsieur and croque-madame), as well as a cheese board ($9) and a board of charcuterie and cheese ($15). The Perigord salad at lunch fans out pieces of warm duck breast over greens, toasted walnuts, tomato, bacon and garlic croutons for $14. It’s a lovely meal any time of the day.
All the luncheon desserts are crepe-based and worth having, including the Suzette, which will be flamed for you tableside either by Vanessa or by the sole server at ’62 Bistrot, Rosemary Dorus.
Whether you come for lunch or dinner, if you favor French comfort foods and you tend toward the small and cozy, there is every reason to make ’62 Bistrot one of your regular culinary pleasures.
1962 Hillview St., Sarasota, (941) 954-1011
Credit cards: All major accepted
Lunch: Tuesday-Saturday, 11:30 am.-2 p.m.
Dinner: Monday-Saturday, 5:30-9 p.m. French wines and beers only