For Bistrot Mirabelle, a new French accent

By Mike Sutter | Fed Man Walking | 10.31.11
Lobster wontons, duck spring rolls, curry, lasagna. Au revoir to all that. Starting next week, Mirabelle begins its transformation into Bistrot Mirabelle, with escargot, mussels, steak tartare, trout Meunière and other dishes from the French repertoire to replace the restaurant’s Southwestern, Asian, Cajun and Caribbean melting pot.
Mirabelle (8127 Mesa Drive, 346-7900, is open this week for lunch and dinner but will be closed Nov. 5-7 as the staff puts the new menu in place. Bistrot Mirabelle will reopen for dinner Nov. 8 with the new menu. After that, Mirabelle will be open 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Mondays-Thursdays and 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays. Sunday brunch is in the planning stages.
I stopped by Mirabelle on Saturday to take fresh pictures of the exterior after the restaurant’s recent ownership change. In mid-October, Michael Villim sold the place he co-founded in 1998 to veteran restaurant manager Brian O’Neill, who’s overseen Uchi, Max’s Wine Dive and Chez Zee since moving to Austin from Boston.
I was in the neighborhood for a burger at Wally’s (my Novemburger series starts Tuesday), and as I looked for the right light outside Mirabelle, O’Neill stepped out. We’ve met before, and he invited me in for an advance look at the new menu, being marked up just then by new executive chef Clint Bertrand.
With the loss of Aquarelle this summer, a survey of French food in the Austin area turns up just a few dedicated places: Justine’s east, Chez Nous downtown, Artisan Bistro in Lakeway and La Maison in Georgetown. Cast the French pedigree in broader terms and you can include Flip Happy Crepes, Le Cafe Crepe, La Patisserie, Péché, Baguette et Chocolat and Fabi and Rosi.
The point is that Francophiles don’t have a lot of places to go. O’Neill saw a chance to remedy that. “We want it to be your favorite neighborhood French bistro,” he told me right after the sale.
Among other French standards, Bertrand is planning duck rillettes with grilled baguette, a charcuterie plate with house-made jams, crispy pork belly with apple salad, French onion soup, steak frites and pappardelle pasta with ratatouille and goat cheese. On one side of the page were kitchen instructions. On the other side were prices. When I said the charcuterie plate was $2 below what most places charge, Bertrand simply said, “We’ve got the neighborhood to think about.” He said he doesn’t want Bistrot Mirabelle to be for special occasions only, and reasonable prices are part of that mission.
Bertrand’s career has moved him from Austin — where he worked for Alan Lazarus at Vespaio — to A16, Conduit and Jeanty in California, then back to Austin, where he worked at Asti and elsewhere before he got the call from O’Neill.
Along with the new name and menu, Bistrot Mirabelle’s decor will get a fresh start, too. O’Neill plans to pull down the familiar artwork, repaint the walls, take away the ridged glass railtops and remove some of the room’s random half-walls. He’ll put up Franco-appropriate art, including a poster for the John Wayne film “The Comancheros.” In French.
(Top: A working version of the new logo for Bistrot Mirabelle. Inset: Bistrot Mirabelle executive chef Clint Bertrand, left, and owner Brian O'Neill. Photos by Mike Sutter © Fed Man Walking.)