I’ve been something of a regular at the original Aixois Bistro in Crestwood ever since Emmanuel and Megan Langlade split from a Parkville restaurant to open their own in 2001.
The Crestwood spot has an appealing patio, a lively dining room and a solid, rarely changing menu of easy-to-negotiate casual fare inspired by Emmanuel Langlade’s southern French roots in and around the small city of Aix-en-Provence.
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Now the Langlades have planted a satellite in a street-level space in the Commerce Bank building downtown. It’s a challenging location — great for lunch in the business district but surrounded by relatively quiet streets at night. The hope, of course, is that the growing base of downtown dwellers and eventgoers will include a reasonable number of Francophile diners.
On two recent night-time visits, the place was mostly full, so the word must be getting around.
With its clean design lines, augmented by frosty, globular light fixtures and warm wood furnishings and accents, Aixois Brasserie feels comfortable, unstuffy and urbane. One leg of the L-shaped dining room looks out on Walnut Street, the other into the Commerce Arcade.
One difference between the new place and the old: “It’s not as noisy,” said my trusty companion, She Who Is Not Easily Pleased, after we were seated at an interior table near the kitchen door. (The Crestwood Aixois has long been known for the unrelenting crowd sounds that bounce off its big mirrors, walls and windows.)
Jason Craine, the chef de cuisine, is making many of Langlade’s familiar Aixois menu items — pan-seared ruby trout, roast chicken, mussels — but some with variations in finishes and sides.
We started one dinner with terrine du jour; a serving board held a disc of pressed pork about the size of a hockey puck, a couple of small triangles of a rich beef-liver pate and sprinkles of pickled pepper and cabbage. A shrimp cocktail offered a handful of just-poached, medium shrimp with a tangy sauce.
She Who savored her nicely tender filet mignon, served with a slather of béarnaise, and I thought the grilled sole was pleasantly firm and filling. Though her mashed potatoes were creamy and my grilled vegetables were serviceable enough, they reminded us that Aixois sides tend to be simple and far from sexy, more country than city. “This is, like, too plain,” she said while poking around the edges of our plates.
We were stuffed but managed to down a chocolate pot de creme; again, rather simple, but silky and just right for the ending moment.
On a weeknight, I was surprised to walk into a vibrant scene, a vibe fueled by a happy-hour gathering of young professionals. The front bar area was crowded, but when my dinner companions arrived we managed to land a pretty good window-side table. The fading light of early evening set a nice contrast for our romp through the brasserie’s menu.
Escargot and mushrooms, swimming in garlicky butter — check. Charcuterie, with mortadella, pickles and more — check. Moules frites — time out. I’ve always liked Aixois’ mussel settings, often creamy, aromatic and dangerously seductive for bread-dipping, but these mussels were disappointingly tiny; not shriveled and old, but just small and flavorless. Perhaps it’s the season.
Our roast chicken breast came out beautifully moist and tender, and my friend, the social spark plug I like to think of as Vitamin K, was quite impressed with her hanger steak, with its rare, juicy center and charred edges.
I got some steak slices atop a dish of linguini (pâtes fresh), though the chance to ask for rare slipped away and the meat came out a little overdone and tough. No lasting damage, though, because the pasta was otherwise the centerpiece of a beautifully balanced choreography of textures and flavors: crimini mushrooms, goat cheese, garlic, pine nuts, fried sage. Fall is here, and this is one of those dishes you’ll want to spend it with.
In Kansas City’s French-food landscape, Aixois Brasserie can hold its own with some fine values (prices tend to be a little lower here than at the Bistro) and appealing, if relatively unchallenging, authenticity.
$14, $19 with protein
Truite saumonee aux amandes
Pot de crème au chocolat
Aixois Brasserie includes a full bar with a list of classic cocktails and a small selection of beers in bottles ($3.75-$9) and on tap ($4-$6), including French and Belgian labels such as Kronenbourg, Fischer, Chimay and Duvel.
France dominates the wine list, though the New World makes some well-chosen appearances. House wines at $6 a glass are agreeable; others range up to $12 a glass. We found the Saint Aix red from Provence to be enjoyably bright and juicy enough to go with all of our dishes and, at $38 a bottle, not horrendously overpriced.