Apologies for the blurry outside photos but the iPhone is still not the best choice for night pictures! I did want to give you a vibe of the area.
Who knew that Valparaiso, Indiana (population 31K) had a bohemian, little downtown area? It comes complete with European style spas, bistros, clothing boutiques, jewelry shops and even an Asana Yoga center!
The immaculately kept streets are peopled with strolling hipsters and area businessmen and they even have their own version of Central Park…with slightly less acreage!
This trip found me burned out on fast food, frazzled from a long week on the road and looking for a little of respite. A perfect little sidewalk cafe, right on Lincolnway beckoned to me as I found my way from Chicago to northern Indiana.
Bon Femme claims to be a restaurant that blends America and Continental Europe with a French accent. Looking at the menu backs up their claim, as the emphasis is on dishes made with fresh ingredients. The restaurant is manned by Executive Chef Eddie Luick who has laid out a simple, but elegant menu.
The inside of the restaurant was clean and crisp with a small, classy wooden bar and a couple performing standards to add to the ambiance. The linens were pressed and everything was laid out elegantly, in carefully aligned rows which spoke of precision and care. Somewhere in this restaurant was someone with OCD tendencies. In my experience, that tends to produce good results from a kitchen.
I had been trapped inside all week so I opted for an apertif of people watching at one of the tables on the sidewalk. The weather was beautiful and the European sidewalk cafe vibe was exactly the tonic my ragged nerves needed. A deep breath and a sigh and I settled in for a rest.
The waiter was attentive and just the right amount of snobby for a restaurant like this. He dropped off some lovely, dense homemade bread and asked if I knew what I wanted to start with.
The appetizer choice was easy as they had an elegant tuna tar-tar (sic) that immediately caught my attention. They also had classic dishes like crabcakes, escargot and steamed mussels, but I was looking for something lighter to start.
The tuna arrived and it was not a disappointment. Simply sushi grade tuna, diced and combined with avocado, chopped red onions and capers. The dish was served with double thick chips that were cooked with Thai spices and offered a great contrast to the softness of the tuna and avocado.
The sweet tuna, salty capers and fatty avocado blended nicely and the red onions were so hot I had to ask the waiter if there was any other spice or seasoning in the dish. Such a nice starter, and a good size to hog to yourself or share if you are going for a multi-course dinner.
The entree choices had me totally bumfuzzled. They all looked great, from the steaks to the veal florentine but I was leaning toward the spicy curry chicken with dried cherries and apricots.
As usual, when I am waffling the waiter comes up and goes over the specials and I forget anything else that was on the menu. The waiter covered the fish special (salmon in a dill sauce) and I had just enough resolve to say “curry chicken or the salmon special?” and he directed me towards the salmon. That was all I needed and I opted for the asparagus rather than a starch in an attempt to eat a bit more healthy.
The fish arrived faster than I would have thought possible.
There was enough of the dill sauce that any hope of eating healthy went right out the window…oh, well!
The salmon was cooked perfectly with a crust on the outside and a soft center that was moist and the tiniest bit rare at the very center. The seasoning was well done and reserved and the pungent bite of the cold dill sauce against the hot salmon was excellent. This is definitely the kind of restaurant that doesn’t put salt and pepper on the table because they are sure they have gotten the seasoning just right!
The asparagus was not overcooked, with light grill marks and done with just olive oil, salt and pepper. The salmon was also served with the vegetable of the day which was a mix of squash, haricot verts and onion. My only regret was that if I had known the vegetable of the day had that much green, I might have opted for the potatoes. Live and learn.
I was far too full for desert but the options were intriguing and they vary based on the chef’s whim for the day.
I was sad to leave Bon Femme and my only regret was that my sweet wife was not along to share the experience with me. Simple, fresh food prepared with a French passion and attention to detail.
I am not sure when I will be back in Valparaiso, but I will be visiting Bon Femme again if I do. Highly recommended.