At Bougnat Restaurant, the evening gets off to a promising start with a basket of good bread and a small bowl of olive oil laced with bright green, finely chopped parsley. It's not particularly fancy, but it's a step above the ordinary, and that sets the tone for everything that follows.
The menu is printed in a large black font on two sheets of white paper slipped inside a black cover. Its contents are as simple as its format: seven appetizers on one side, eight entrees on the other.
On the appetizer side, the escargot de Bourgogne aux croutons ($9.50) are the stars. Each is tucked beneath a disc of crisp toast in the traditional six-dimpled plate, and that keeps them blazingly hot. The great buttery blast of garlic when you bite into them is superb.
The moules mariniere ($12) stand out as well. Though laced with herbs, the cream and garlic sauce is mild and understated against the strong bite of the mussels. It's quite delightful to sop up at the end with plenty of bread.
A generous portion of country terrine ($8.50) is moister and more loosely packed than most, and it has a rather bitter edge to it that struck me as odd upon first bite but really grew on me with each succeeding one. For salads, there's a Caesar ($8.50) and a mesclun tossed with beets and asparagus ($8.50). On the latter, the roasted red beets and the asparagus are cool and rather plain. They could use a little acid or something to brighten them up, but the only flaw with the delicious goat cheese cream that's drizzled over the top is that there's not quite enough of it.
The entrées balance fish and seafood preparations, like bacon-wrapped golden sea bass ($23.50) and shrimp and scallop casserole provençale ($24), with heartier meat dishes, like beer-braised short ribs ($24) and tournedos of beef au poivre in a brandy cream sauce ($29).
Not all of them manage to soar, but they at least get off the ground. The duck breast ($23) is well-seared and tender, though the raspberry vinegar in which it's served is a bit thin and overly sharp. The "horseradish crust" on the Scottish salmon ($22) turns out to be a pale green paste slathered across the top, but it's got just the right level of heat to complement but not overwhelm the fish.
The lamb portion of the rack of lamb ($29) is very tender and flavorful, and there's a nice sear to the fatty edges. It comes with half a red potato that's hollowed out and filled with wonderfully rich and dark duxelles. There are some vegetables underneath the lamb, but they're forgettable.
There's nothing forgettable about the coq au vin ($20) though. By itself, it justifies a visit to Bougnat Restaurant. You get half a chicken — a breast and a leg/thigh quarter — in a white bowl, with lardons and mushrooms layered across the top. The chicken is marinated for five days in red wine before being slow simmered in the oven, and it's served atop an exquisitely dark, rich sauce reduced down from the braising liquid — a testament to the miracle of what time can do to something as ordinary as a chicken. If the bird alone is not enough, there are tasty cauliflower florets and tiny, tender pearl onions served alongside, too.
You probably won't just stumble across Bougnat since it's rather hidden back in the Belle Station shopping center on Long Point Road. The space has hosted a series of short-lived restaurants. One of the previous occupants — perhaps back when it was a fish camp — added one of those outside-in adornments, a partial sloping roof over the bar that, I guess, is supposed to make you think you're sitting outside a farmhouse even though you're inside a strip-mall storefront.
But Bougnat has run with it, giving the tin roofing a green coat of paint. Above it, the tiles of the drop ceiling are painted black. The walls are lined with red leather-backed booths, and nine tables with white cloths fill the center of the room. All told, it makes for a room that blends elegance with comfort — not fancy, by any means, but still nice.
Add in a slim but solid wine selection with no bottle over $32 and a slate of tempting desserts, and you have all the elements for an off-the-beaten-path neighborhood favorite.
This isn't the spot for a flashy dinner when you're trying to impress someone. If the food doesn't dazzle, it certainly pleases and comforts. Bougnat Restaurant isn't the type of place that's going to get breathless buzz or make its way onto anyone's local heat map. But it's the kind of restaurant that, if you live nearby, you should be quite excited to see arrive: a fine neighborhood spot to share a bottle of wine and some good, solid French dishes with friends.