Le Bar a Boeuf's Updated Menu Offers Dishes Reminiscent of Downtown’s Table and the Iconic Maisonette

Chef Jean-Robert de Cavel and his team have revamped the menu of the Walnut Hills burger bar.

Sep 28, 2021 at 2:33 pm
click to enlarge Le Bar a Boeuf's wedge salad, with fried green tomatoes and watermelon. - Photo: Hailey Bollinger
Photo: Hailey Bollinger
Le Bar a Boeuf's wedge salad, with fried green tomatoes and watermelon.

You can take the French chef out of a fine-dining environment, but you may not be able to take a fine-dining orientation out of the chef. Not completely, anyhow.

Case in point: After closing his more upscale restaurants L and Table in 2020, Chef Jean-Robert de Cavel had two relatively casual restaurants in his portfolio. French Crust Café, adjacent to Findlay Market, is a colorful establishment with the feel of a Parisian bistro and is a perfect place for lunch or brunch. And Le Bar a Boeuf, which opened in 2015, has an emphasis on unusual burgers and several bourgeois French dishes containing ingredients like escargot and calf liver.

[PHOTOS: Inside Le Bar a Boeuf]

Located on the ground floor of a Walnut Hills condo building and drawing patrons largely from nearby neighborhoods, Le Bar a Boeuf features a large patio with river views and one of the tiniest kitchens imaginable for a full-service restaurant. The somewhat out-of-the-way location and the menu’s focus on ground meat kept me from dining there often.

Recently, I heard that de Cavel had relocated with a core staff from Table to the aforementioned compact kitchen. As a consequence, Le Bar a Boeuf’s menu has gotten more interesting as de Cavel and his young colleague, Chef Jordan Brauninger, have introduced a variety of dishes reminiscent of Table — and of the Maisonette, where de Cavel first wowed our city’s palates in 1993.

“It’s my place, I own it, but I’d never really spent any time there,” de Cavel said of Le Bar a Boeuf.

At the beginning of 2021, he took a couple weeks off after the closure of his other restaurants and then started work at Le Bar a Boeuf with Marilou Lind, Table’s longtime front-of-house manager, and a few other de Cavel loyalists.

“We got lucky that some of our team at Table wanted to help (at Le Bar a Boeuf ),” de Cavel told CityBeat.

“It’s a very comfortable place, a family restaurant, really,” he added.

Although he hasn’t sought publicity or done any promotion of the staff and menu changes, de Cavel says that word-of-mouth has led to more diners, at times almost overwhelming the kitchen and serving crew.

My friends and I had a choice of first or second seating on a Saturday: The first seating was from 5:30-6:15 p.m. and the later one started at 7:30 p.m. We took the earlier option and asked whether we could have a table on the patio. “It depends on whether we have enough servers,” Lind said over the phone. As it turned out, the patio was too hot at that hour, but a few people did find tables there by the time we left around 8 p.m.

As happens pretty much everywhere these days, service did get slow at times, but for the most part, we didn’t notice. Our waiter, a Table veteran named Dar- ren, said this was his first night at Le Bar a Boeuf after he had come in on short notice when de Cavel called. We lucked out with Darren, not only because of his knowledge about all of the kitchen’s culinary touches, but also thanks to his long history with de Cavel. I learned a lot from Darren.

For instance, he told us how the featured wedge salad ($12) — a collaboration by both chefs — came together, and it was a doozy. An almost paper-thin slice of sweet watermelon formed the base of the salad, topped by a crispy wedge of iceberg lettuce and tangy, chunky blue cheese dressing. The dish included two or three thick, crunchy slices of fried green tomato, which made for a very filling first course.

click to enlarge Salmon, wrapped in bacon, and served with a soy cream sauce. - Photo: Hailey Bollinger
Photo: Hailey Bollinger
Salmon, wrapped in bacon, and served with a soy cream sauce.

We shared a couple of other appetizers: crab cakes and “Shrimp Maisonette Style” (each $16). The shrimp blew me away with its garlic butter and white wine sauce dotted with bits of fresh tomato and sliced mushrooms. The plentiful, perfectly cooked crustaceans benefited not only from that savory bath but also from slices of toasted brioche. I could have been happy with a whole order to myself and probably wouldn’t have needed much else. Darren said it was a recent addition to the menu, and bravo for that.

Compared to the shrimp, the crab cakes disappointed in ways I’ve found increasingly common since the price of crabmeat skyrocketed this year. These were better than some I’ve had, but the breading/filler-to-crab ratio still favored breading.

For our entrees, a halibut special was delicious despite being lukewarm, but we did send back an overcooked rack of lamb; we’d ordered it rare. When Darren brought back the fix, apologizing profusely and bringing the hungry diner an extra glass of wine on the house, the dish was perfect. My friend ate her lamb with “oohs” and “ahhs” after each bite. Accompanied by flageolet beans, sauteed asparagus and a sauce with mushrooms, peppers and herbs, it was an exemplary rack of lamb preparation ($38).

I loved my entrée as well: Table Salmon ($28), cooked with the fish wrapped in bacon.

Everything on the plate equaled the fish in quality, and I ate with gusto the wild rice, spring peas and shiitake mushrooms pulled together by soy cream sauce. It was a large enough portion that I took half home and finished it for lunch the next day.

In a subsequent phone conversation, de Cavel told me that he is continuing treatment for a rare soft-tissue cancer diagnosed in 2018 and spoke wistfully about his pending 60th birthday. Retirement or even slowing down doesn’t hold much appeal, he said.

“I’m enjoying myself,” de Cavel said of his role at Le Bar a Boeuf. “We have a young, inexperienced crew and it’s fun to be with them, to try to teach them what I know.”

He said he intends to reopen Table in a new location at some point but doesn’t want to hurry anything.

“I’m surrounded by people I love, it’s a treasure,” he said.

“A treasure,” he repeated with a sigh.

Le Bar a Boeuf, 2200 Victory Parkway, Walnut Hills, lebaraboeuf.com.

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