Restaurant Reviews

French Kiss

Mignon postures as a Yankee's notion of Paris during the '60s: Audrey Hepburn, Catherine Deneuve, hip American jazz, and pill-bug Citrons that would look way cool in 21st-century Plano if they didn't have the reliability and durability of communist-bloc concrete. Just portside of the hostess stand, above a cabinet that holds precisely arranged stacks of menus and wine lists, is a portrait of Hepburn. An odd rectangular mural over the bar depicts a rectangular clock frozen at 12:10.

Mignon is supposed to be the type of venue where American jazz legends would hang, according to the press materials. "Mignon is just the place they would feel at home spending long, comfortable evenings, swaying to the sultry sound of American jazz while fashionable young things frolic at the bar and on the patio." I don't know if this is what 1960s Paris really looked like. To me the '60s were a blur--not of mind alterations, but of yards of orange Hot Wheels track and Monkees reruns. Paris was nothing more than a place that spawned perfume commercials.

In actuality, Mignon looks less like what '60s Paris might have been, and more like what it is: 21st-century Plano minus valet parking. I mean, I sure didn't see any frolicking fashionable young things doing patio pirouettes or bar box-steps, though some of the servers could have been said to be frolicking...well, bubbling anyway.

Which isn't to say the service wasn't very good. Restaurant operators often complain of how difficult it is to find, train, and retain good service help in Plano. Mignon parent Carlson Restaurants Worldwide had a devil of a time getting the service machine primed and running at Taqueria Cañonita next door. The labor pool just isn't there in a community of tract barracks populated by families. But the fresh nubility of the waitresses here is sown with a streak of seasoning. More than polite and attentive, they know the menu, for the most part, and what they don't know, they quickly discover and disseminate. While their service skills aren't the most polished, this is a bistro, for God's sake, albeit one with an American gene, perhaps the only sort of French that can survive in this part of Baja, Oklahoma.

There's a certain deftness to the waitresses' hands too. Steak tartare is a tableside assault of a raw meatball, one planted on the semi-glistening surface of a black marble square. Little piles of capers and sliced onions along with some basil oil and Dijon are inserted and mashed into a hub of beef tenderloin with a knife and fork. It changes shape as it's folded, pressed, and stirred--going from a ball to a turban with a divot to a Don King hairdo and back to a ball pocked with caper pimples. The black marble tile is deposited on the table. Spread the cold flesh over a toast point, and you'll notice not only that the meat is sinuous and perhaps a little tough, but also that the toast points strut about a bit like angled strips of Styrofoam--not a pleasant texture in the mouth.

This is in stark contrast to the toast points coupled with the salmon duet. These were crisp, tender platforms that let the chilled, coarsely ground pink fish flesh shine, which it would have on its own anyway. This supple little knob of fish was served on tan/Dijon-hued square of marble with little piles of capers, onion, and lemon zest. Keeping consistent with the duet moniker, the marble also included a small rectangular section of house-smoked salmon that was moist with a nice, firm puff of smoke that hit without being dry.

Oysters on the half shell were good too, with little jiggly tongues of gray that were briny, clean, and smooth. But, hell, this place isn't about fish and raw claptraps. It's about steak and fries. And here--well, it's hard to say how well this place swings with this stuff. Steak frites, sort of the signature dish I guess, looked liked bacon and hash browns. Sliced strips of prime entrecte beef are rolled out like breakfast strips against a pile of well-seasoned frites that seemed a little limp. They could have been crisper, considering the pedigree. Though the meat was silky and perfectly cooked to the requested medium-rare hue--leaning though it did toward the rare end--it was a little shy on rich flavor.

But there was a good burst of richness in the bone-in shell steak, a seldom-used alias for New York strip. The meat was fine, flowing with juice and redolent with tenderness. But the flavor wasn't consistent across the cut. Some bites were rich, while others were a little mealy with a dry, livery taste. Still, for 25 bucks (at 18 ounces), it was a pretty good deal.

Mignon also makes a bit of fuss over its cocktails, perversions of standard mind-numbers. Here the cosmopolitan becomes a metro; with a brandy injection, the margarita becomes a Harry's American sidecar; and a white-chocolate martini becomes a French poodle, this last one perhaps the most fitting. I can think of nothing better to do with a French poodle than put it into one of two kitchen appliances.

For sipping your custom drinks, Mignon has a long mahogany bar. It also has a private wine space dubbed the "black beret room," a chamber that everyone seems to stick their faces into as they wait by the hostess stand to be seated, so private is relative. More private might be two corners in the restaurant that hold urgently rousing pinkish and fuzzy coiled banquettes. They look like a curled carrot shaving.

And the pork chop paillard looks like a lean-to. A bone-in piece of pork, pounded and spread into a tarp-like state, was perched on a mound of horseradish mashed potatoes. Those potatoes were smooth and tasty. The meat, however, was dry and tough at the edges, though once the interior was traversed, it grew moist and delicious with inky splashes of balsamic glaze puddling in the meat depressions.

Cast-iron chicken started out dry and remained dry through and through. Pieces of meat are marinated, cast-iron grilled, pierced with wood skewers, and crowded with a chorus of pommes frites. French onion soup is carpeted with thick sheets of Swiss Gruyère and provolone. It's thick with flavor as well, though perhaps more sweet than anything. A more zestful kick inserted somewhere would have helped it mesh with the palate better, but it was still satisfyingly rich.

Tableside Caesar, with a dressing blended tableside, worked well too. The dressing surged with anchovy and sizzled with lemon, skirting the timidity of most Caesar recipes.

Pan-seared striped bass was as busy as the press-material description of Mignon. The fish is girded, surrounded, and otherwise buried by a ragtag ragout of fragmented kalamatas, carrots, potatoes, tomatoes, garlic, and caramelized onions, among other things that were hard to decipher without a field guide. The fish, lightly floured, was buttery and moist, but even that was hard to tell beneath this overly busy heap.

At Mignon, you can finish things off with a variety of sweeteners, including the ubiquitous crème brûlée, chocolate truffle cheesecake, and lemon Doberge, the last being a delicately arranged, somewhat dense layered cookie-like cake thingamajig surrounded by a puddle of strawberry sauce. It was good but a bit gritty with sugar.

For all of its somewhat tongue-in-cheek pretensions, Mignon is a thoroughly enjoyable and spirited place, and if you don't pick nits too much, the food is downright terrific. You can even bring your French poodle on the patio if you want, in true French style. Just keep it away from the blender and the microwave. They're hazards, you know.

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Mark Stuertz
Contact: Mark Stuertz

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