LIGHT TOUCH

Who wants dessert?: Belleville chef Joe Elorriaga's refreshing dessert of pink grapefruit slices is slathered in crunchy caramel and served with sorbet.
The Brooklyn Papers / Greg Mango

The French bistro Belleville, on Park Slope’s
Fifth Avenue, possesses something that few Brooklyn restaurants
have – glamour.



It is evident in the sparkling light that bounces off the vintage
mirrored walls. You can hear it in the high-spirited conversations
of large groups and in the intimate whispers of handholding couples.
You can see it in the apron-clad waiters running past tables
with big bowls of mussels. And when you walk through Belleville’s
big glass doors, the scent of women’s perfume mingling with heady
kitchen aromas is dizzying.



Belleville, which opened in October, may have every bistro accouterment
– tile floors, antique mirrors and a big, wooden bar – yet it’s
not a Disney version of a French restaurant. Belleville’s ambience
is France by way of Brooklyn with a joie de vivre all its own.



Of course, all the glamour in the world wouldn’t pack a Brooklyn
restaurant if the food was just so-so. Chef Joe Elorriaga has
served as executive chef in Casimir, Felix and The Elephant,
three restaurants owned by Belleville proprietors Eric Lagrange
and Alain Deuneulin. At Belleville, Elorriaga wisely leaves many
bistro classics alone. The onion soup has a nice, thick, Gruyere
crust, as it should, and the fabulous duck confit is as rich
as cheesecake.



But here and there Elorriaga lets up on the butter and instead
of a cupful of cream, uses a few tablespoons instead. His lightened
dishes are every bit as satisfying as their butter-laden prototypes.




The chef isn’t averse to giving diners a good-natured poke in
the ribs. Take the potato salad with greens and goat cheese.
The essence of America’s favorite picnic staple is there, but
his traditional potato and cheese appetizer, the "Petatou
de Fromage," is its chic city cousin.



The potatoes are molded into a plump, slightly warmed timbale
then iced with a thick layer of goat cheese. It’s creamy and
tangy, and would be pleasantly subdued if it wasn’t paired with
salty, pitted Nicoise olives and a salad of interesting lettuce
and herbs that give the little cake a welcome jolt. Parsley,
in the salad mix, lends the side a refreshing note.



A competently made, but not exciting, fish soup was helped with
a dip of a crisp crouton smeared with saffron-flavored rouille
(a paste made of chiles, garlic, bread crumbs and olive oil)
into the broth.



The mussels make a delectable shared appetizer or entree. The
mollusks are as tiny as your thumbnail, impeccably fresh and
sweet. Their briny broth is gently laced with garlic, a touch
of cream and a whisper of anise-like Pernod. If you run out of
the delectable, thin, salty frites that sit beside the mussels
in a pert little cone, you can sop up every drop of that broth
with a slice of the chewy French bread.



A dish that made the mussels seem like delicate eating is the
unctuous duck confit. Confit is meat that has been cooked and
stored in its own fat. The rich meat of the duck’s leg is concentrated
to the buttery density of pate, with the mineral tang of a just-off-the-broiler,
rare sirloin steak. Slightly bitter greens tossed in a lemony
dressing go a long way to cutting the richness of the meat. A
side of mashed potatoes was buttery to the extreme, pushed the
limit on decadence, and was as enjoyable a side dish as anyone
could desire.



There’s an unusual item on the dessert roundup that may be the
ultimate spring dessert. Elorriaga brushes pink grapefruit sections
in light caramel syrup. The syrup hardens to a brittle coating
around the fruit that cracks between your teeth. The contrast
of the sweet, sugar glaze and the sharpness of the fruit is exhilarating.
He serves the sections with a drizzle of the syrup and a scoop
of intensely flavored, house-made grapefruit sorbet. Warm chocolate
cake is a shopworn staple, but this version is bittersweet and
paired with coffee ice cream so strong that you can forgo an
end-of-meal espresso.



In French, Belleville means "beautiful town." Our "beautiful
town" is that much better with the addition of Belleville.



Belleville (330 Fifth St. at Fifth Avenue
in Park Slope) accepts American Express. Entrees: $12.50-$18.50.
The restaurant serves lunch and dinner seven days a week. Brunch
is available Saturday and Sunday from 10:30 am to 5:30 pm. For
reservations call (718) 832-9777.


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