Note: In July 2018 Bar Frenchman changed its name to La Riviera and closed in early 2019.
Bar Frenchman (now La Riviera) in East Liberty is a fine dining restaurant serving up French dishes in a modern, non-stuffy atmosphere. On our recent visit the cocktails were whimsical and impressive, the food was delicious and nearly perfect, and the service was on point.
The restaurant's supremely tall ceilings, tiled floors, and suspended lights all give off a more casual vibe than the Twisted Frenchman, Bar Frenchman's sister that offers a multi-course tasting menu experience on the second floor of the building. The relaxed atmosphere may seem at first a little incongruous with the menu style and pricing, but we think it keeps the restaurant from being too staid.
One of Pittsburgh's Best Cocktail Menus
The cocktail menu immediately awed us: it is unlike any other cocktail menu we've seen in Pittsburgh. Rather than just listing ingredients, this menu includes a very detailed key that explains the flavor profile of each drink. Flavors like “bitter,” “bright,” and “herbal” are listed in a chart, and a colored bar for each drink depicts how much of each flavor each drink provides.
For example, we first tried the “orange” cocktail, which the menu depicted as having a sweet, strong, and very umami flavor profile. The cocktail flavors did indeed live up to this description with the umami flavors of duck-fat-washed gin and foie gras powder balanced by sweet and sour Aperol, Grand Marnier, orange juice, and bitters.
We tried a few more for good measure. The “yellow” cocktail was smokey, bitter, and herbal with scotch, Chartreuse, grapefruit bitters, and Sage liqueur; the “blue” cocktail was spicy, sour, and sweet with Fresno pepper, citric acid, and Maggie's Farm rum.
We really loved the focus on flavor profiles here. How many times have you looked at a cocktail ingredient list and been completely clueless as to what the thing will actually taste like? The menu here eliminates confusion and is just plain fun to read and drink through.
A Spread of Traditional French Fare
The food menu appears fairly traditional at first glance: French onion soup, oysters, escargot, foie gras, steak frites, duck, and trout are just a few of the classics offered here. The appetizer that caught our eye, however, was the raclette.
Raclette is traditionally a Swiss dish but it felt right at home here, French-ified with a sauce gribiche containing diced pickles and eggs and a baguette served on the side. The raclette was a beautiful puddle of gooey melted cheese with the gribiche adding astringency to counterbalance the richness.
We had a lot of fun eating this dish, pulling on the stringy cheese and mopping it up with the bread.
One of the entrees we couldn't pass up was the lobster pot pie. Topped with a flaky crust, this one was filled with potato puree, carrots, peas, and chunks of lobster.
Although it was a hardy, comforting dish and the chunks of lobster were huge, there were only a handful of lobster pieces and we would have loved even more of them. Overall, we thought this dish wasn't quite as delicious or interesting as the rest of the excellent meal.
I was briefly torn between the Parisian gnocchi and the duck, but then I came to my senses and ordered the duck. Served with a cabbage slaw and fingerling potatoes, the crispy duck leg confit was perfection.
The skin on the duck leg was so crispy and the meat just fell off of the bone, it was so tender. The duck was rich and was made even more so with a foie gras mustard sauce that topped it. A garlicky white bean puree underneath the duck leg helped balance the richness of the dish, and so did the extremely vinegary and sour cabbage slaw.
The only slight miss for us in this dish was the potatoes – they were listed on the menu as “crispy” but could have been a bit crispier on the outside.
I rarely have the volition to abstain from creme brulee, and this evening was no exception. The crunchy sugar layer had just the right thickness and amount of caramelization, while the custard itself was creamy and blood orange flavored.
Two slices of lavender shortbread topped it off. Eaten on their own, these shortbread slices had a delicate lavender flavor.
When we took a bite of the shortbread with the creme brulee, the floral lavender flavor mingled amicably with the blood orange flavor of the creme brulee. In a word: divine!
We also tried a dessert cocktail, the egg nog cocktail made with green chartreuse, egg, a chocolate bock reduction, chocolate bitters, fernet, and chocolate shavings on top. It was decidedly chocolate forward but the sweetness and richness were kept in check by the green chartreuse and fernet.
Throughout the meal the service was attentive; we also appreciated that our server acknowledged my tree nut allergy before I even ordered (we had mentioned it when we made our reservation).
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If you're looking for classic French food in a modern setting, we recommend Bar Frenchman for its unique cocktails, classic flavors with a few twists, and attentive service. But perhaps do yourself a favor and take a pass on the lobster pot pie.
Bar Frenchman closed in early 2019.