Earlier this year, Petit Louis Bistro celebrated its tenth anniversary. My first visit to the restaurant, now an established part of the Roland Park community, was during the summer of 2001, only a year after it opened its doors. I'd just come back from my first trip to Europe (as a part of a business school class) and my friend Dave and I spent the summer eating at French places all around Baltimore, trying to recreate our three days in Paris.
We'd already been to Crepe du Jour, where the crowded deck and simple food (especially the green salads) were perfect. Petit Louis was perfect, too, but in a different way. Also crowded and sometimes loud, but more polished than Crepe du Jour, PL impressed us with its food, its wine, its service, and its decor, down to the black and gold walls and the marble-topped tables.
Over the past nine years, I've probably made fifteen trips to the restaurant. I've been for brunch, lunch and dinner. With friends, with both of our families, with Dixon, and just with Cooper on my own. One of my visits was "official" - I wrote last year's review for the Best Restaurants issue of Baltimore magazine. I've at least tried most of the items on the menu at this point, and more than a few of the wines.
Petit Louis has held a solid place in my own restaurant repertoire for a while, but after a Friday night visit a few weeks ago, I started thinking more about how it fits into Baltimore's food scene as a while.
It started with a last minute Friday morning call from Cooper's mom, offering to watch Dixon for the night. We never say no to that sort of offer. After a five minute consultation with Cooper, we decided I'd try to get a reservation at Petit Louis - we hadn't been since last summer - and if that didn't work out, we'd eat at the bar at Crush.
Unlike some spots (cough-Woodberry Kitchen-cough), an 8 PM Friday night reservation at Petit Louis is still doable without months of advance notice. For us, that's huge. But that doesn' tmean the restaurant is hurting for customers. When we arrived, 20 minutes early, with plans to have a pre-dinner drink at the bar, the place was packed. As it turns out, we didn't even sit down until close to 8:30.
As usual, the customers were fun to watch. Petit Louis draws a great crowd of fancy/preppy Roland Park locals, fabulous older ladies, and the occasional young family. That Friday was no different.
And actually "no different" is just about the perfect description for the overall Petit Louis dining experience. It is remarkably consistent. This time, I ordered the butternut squash soup and I know - without a doubt - that it would be creamy and rich and full of layered flavors (the pureed soups always are). Cooper started with sweetbreads and had steak frites (for the first time, somehow), while I went for my new PL standard, the steak bearnaise. The sauces are good, the frites are crispy and perfect (better than McDonald's!) and the wine (Cuvee de Louis aka "Louis Rouge") is inexpensive and and a reliably great partner to the steak.
Service is prompt but not fawning and if the dining room is a little loud and a little cramped, that's OK - it adds to the authenticity.
And, most importantly, the food, the service, and the atmosphere all remain unchanged. Just like a favorite bistro in Paris, Petit Louis at ten is a whole lot like Petit Louis at one: solid.