Bistro in Dormont adds to scant French food scene in region
Say bonjour to a new French bistro in Dormont.
Jean Louis Parisian Bistro opened in December 2018, in the space formerly occupied by Needle & Pin along West Liberty Avenue in Dormont.
The owner, Shiv Bandhu, decided on French fare.
“There was a lack of representation of the French cuisine in Pittsburgh,” Bandhu said. “We wanted to create a restaurant that has a homey feel along with casual elegance and style.”
He leads the Jean Louis culinary team focused on preparing traditional, fresh French cuisine, with a non-pretentious vibe.
“You’re supposed to have always good food, good service and good ambience,” Gaetano said. “I think what we offer here is the extra mile, the fact that I am very available to the customer.”
It’s intimate, yet spacious enough at Jean Louis, with candlelit booths and open-table seating surrounded by hardwood floors, chandeliers and European artwork.
A dining room/lounge located downstairs accommodates up to 60 guests.
French classics such as coq au vin, salade nicoise, escargot, lamb, beef and fish are here, along with salads, appetizers, desserts and a full-service bar offering French-inspired specialty cocktails.
Entrée prices are in the $22-$32 range.
Patrons are encouraged to consult with Ascione about his off-the-menu dishes such as whole lump meat crab cakes, made without bread crumbs.
The lamb featured in the Souris D’Agneau Braisee, ($29) or braised lamb shank, comes from Jameson Farms in Latrobe.
Ascione imports pork from Snake River Farm in Iowa and soaks the meat in brine for 48 hours.
Truffle and traditional pommes frites (French fries) are standard in France, and it’s “a must” to offer them here in Pittsburgh Ascione said.
“I don’t like to use Idaho potatoes for French fries,” Gaetano said. “I only use one of the best potatoes that the U.S. has produced, the Kennebac potato from Maine. It’s a tremendous flavor.”
The French soup ($8) is prepared with three different onion varieties — Vidalia, Spanish and red — and baked in a non-protein vegetable based stock, topped with Gruyere cheese and baguette toast.
“I noticed the onions,” said first-time customer Fran Tommarello, who sampled the soup. “I live down the street and this is inviting, comfortable and delicious.”
Gaetano said he makes every effort to converse and socialize with every table, even on hectic weekends.
The customer feedback is vital, he said, commenting on the popularity of his soup.
“I’ve sold more than 600 onion soups since we have opened,” Gaetano said.
A native of Naples, Italy, Gaetano’s culinary career began when he was awarded a master’s degree in hotel training in Italy and later, a bachelor’s degree in industrial biology from Duchess County College in New York.
His practical chef experiences vary, with stints at the oldest private club in Singapore, the Tanglin Club, the Bahamas, India, Italy, Germany, Cannes, France and South Korea.
Fluent in five languages, French included, his career highlights include cooking for several U.S. Presidents including Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan, meeting and serving as executive chef for former South African president Nelson Mandela’s Inaugural Banquet.
“That (meeting Mandela) was a tremendous honor and one I am most proud of. He was humble and wanted to eat a lot of strawberries,” Ascione said. “I’m a citizen of the world.”
The Jean Louis name choice wasn’t random.
Ascione worked with his mentor, the late Jean-Louis Palladin, a legendary French chef credited with introducing many of the now taken for granted French delicacies, initially feeding Washington D.C.’s elite at his namesake hotel in the Watergate Hotel.
Gaetano most recently was the chef and partner at Chicago’s Michelin- starred restaurant Gioco, now closed, and served as the opening chef for The Pennsylvania Market in the Strip District.
Guests with dietary restrictions are welcome at Jean Louis, with vegan and gluten free requests honored.
Reservations are strongly recommended for dinner and Jean Louis recently began serving lunch, although a finalized lunch menu is still in the works.
The dress code is described as casual elegant—no jacket/tie is required.
“Ever since we opened in December we’ve been so busy we haven’t had time to breathe,” Ascione said.
Joyce Hanz is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.