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Le Bistro French Restaurant : When you are dining, you’re trying to get all the senses involved.

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With family nearby in Oregon, Iain Duncan and his wife, Tonya, left his position as Chef at Chez Paul, and bought Le Bistro of Corvallis, Oregon in 2006.  Then Chef Iain ran into the most challenging aspect of running a restaurant.

Construction was hard,” he said.  “The remodel, being our first restaurant, was a trying time.”  But he stuck to his vision, inspired by the building that housed his restaurant, originally constructed as part of Hotel Corvallis in 1927.

“We wanted to go with the look of the era for the old hotel,” he said.  “Particularly with the tin ceiling.” The result of his efforts is an atmosphere that embraces your senses when you enter…

The room glows with warm amber light from chandeliers and wall sconces that make us want to believe they are holding candles.  The rear wall cheers patrons with a hand painted mural of a scene from a French street, and more art spans the longer walls.  French music floats through the air, adding to the sounds of the kitchen and those dining around you.

“When you’re dining, you’re trying to get all of the senses involved.  It starts with the visual, then the smell and taste and so on. There are lots of different levels of each sense and the goal of a fine dining experience is to hit all of them,” Iain says.  The smells drifting from the kitchen reinforce his comments.   They entice and ready us for our meal.

“We want to give our guest a dining experience,” Chef Iain shared.  “You’re not just coming in to feed your belly, you can do that anywhere.  What we’re trying to create is more of an experience with food and atmosphere and tying all those things together - to give our guests something they don’t normally get at the majority of establishments in the world.”

The service is impeccable.  The waiter even unfolds and sets our napkin in our lap just like in the old movies.

Our five course meal exceeded Chef Iain’s promise.  We began with the Scallops Provencal — a large sea scallop in herb blended French bread crumbs, cooked to perfection, retaining its firm texture, accented with nicoise olives, tomatoes and chard. The scallop shell itself rests on a bed of salt, emulating a sandy beach, all of it splashed with colors of white, yellow, red, and black — tickling the eyes with memories of a white sandy beach in Hawaii.

Then came our Lobster Bisque Soup, its creamy, buttery richness whispers down our throat.  In the center of our soup sits a cognac and cream filled puff pastry so light and delicate that it virtually melts in our mouth.  The soup is followed by a Shrimp Salad -- diced Napa cabbage sits in the middle of the plate with shrimp arranged decoratively on top.  Tomato, avocado, and green beans are artistically arranged around this centerpiece.  A creamy dill dressing is used only on the Napa cabbage and the green beans.  The result is a contrast of refreshing, clean tastes, textures, and colors

For dinner, we tried two entrées.  First came the The Dungeness Crab Stuffed Petrale Sole with a Citrus Beurre Blanc Sauce.Wild basmati rice tossed with Herbs du Provence centers the plate.  Carrots cut like daisies interspersed with snap peas add color and textures.  The sauce, like the fish, is subtle and delicate — nothing overpowers. We taste the lemon, the crab, the sole, the butter — each stimulating a different taste bud on our tongue.  “Wow!” doesn’t do this justice. Let’s go with “knocks my socks off.” This course was complemented with a Tyee Pinto Gris and the fit was perfect.

Our final pleasure — but we will be back — was the Cattail Creek Farms Rack of Lamb. It is local, 100% natural and can be enjoyed locally only at Le Bistro Restaurant. It is served aged with fine herbs and golden raisins in a pinot noir demi glaze. The lamb was very tender, had very little fat and tasted “cleaner” than any lamb we have ever had before.  The raisins added good texture to the demi glaze sauce, with a just right sweetness that accented the lamb and complemented the potatoes au gratin.   We enjoyed a Chateau Larose Trintaudon 2007 Bordeaux with this entrée.

Chef Iain Duncan has put together a varied menu featuring complex tastes that are sure to satisfy those new to French cuisine as well as the experienced culinary critic. He enjoys running his own business and creating his own menu.  “For me, making people happy with the food and interacting with my guests is really the most rewarding aspect to the restaurant business.”

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10 Comments - (Leave a comment! »)

  • Matt -- Oregon said:

    I read your impressions on Le Bistro French Restaurant in Oregon. I figured it seemed only fitting, considering my own personal experience with French culture and my interest in food and wine.

    Overall, I found the article very informative, and your manner of description really conveyed the sensual experience of dining at Le Bistro. I found this to be especially important because of how central the senses are to truly enjoying a french-style meal, as Chef Duncan pointed out. At times I did find myself a bit distracted by your use of the pronoun “we” as I don’t feel your companions were clearly introduced in the course of your narrative. I would either incorporate them more fully, and leave them out all together and focus on your personal experience.

    That, however, is a very small criticism in what is otherwise a very cohesive, conversational and decadently descriptive review. Your attention to detail and your ability to ‘paint a picture’ of the moment truly made me want to be there at the table, sharing in a delicious meal!

  • J said:

    This is an artfully crafted review of an Oregon-based French bistro (Le Bistro). The article was well written, save for the first quote you chose to include. I don’t like it. I don’t know that Chef Duncan doesn’t speak in fragments but I have to assume that his comments were edited to save space.
    Having worked in gourmet restaurants, I found that the way in which you described the experience is spot-on. Fine dining, as an experience and not just a description, is supposed to traverse the senses. I was particularly enthralled with the words you chose to describe the cuisine. I don’t believe I’ve ever heard bisque described as a liquid that whispers down the throat.

  • Lee A – Colorado said:

    This article is extremely well done and organized. I felt the inviting ambiance immediately. I like the way you quote the owner, giving the article more of a voice. Your description of the first course of the five-course meal had my mouth watering. However, I would like to have seen more coverage of Iain’s reasoning for opening Le Bistro.

  • Hank said:

    I loved the sensual nature of the article it was as if I was dinning in the restaurant it self. I salivated to the last piece of ever so tender lamb was eaten and the sweetness whaifing up from the line detailing the Au gratin … unbelievably well written.

  • R. West -- Florida said:

    This feels a bit awkward posting my honest thoughts on this site. I would normally prefer to do this in a private e-mail. I must agree with Jeffifer from Washington in that as much as the article entices me gastronomically, I too felt that there was more to the story to be told from the standpoint of who is this man and what has driven him. Is he making or has he somehow made a difference in the world that I’ve not been made aware of? How is he a winner versus merely being successful? Not that success is any small feat, to be sure.

    The food and atmosphere sound divine. The smells and tastes subtly surrounding me as if seated at the very table the writer sits at and enjoying it for myself, which is the ultimate goal of any good writer. And if you are a good writer and you’ve managed to convey that “state” to your readers, then mission accomplished.

    But when taking the site into consideration, I can’t help but feel there is something missing. To me it feels more like a review than a story that I’d find on Winners Within Us. I am new to the site, and perhaps I’m not familiar enough with the goings-on of the food section to be qualified to say this. So please forgive me if I’m speaking out of turn, so to speak.

    I must admit, if I were in Oregon right now, I’d be on my way there just for the description of the lobster bisque soup alone! Bon appetit, everyone.

  • Yara -- Florida said:

    I enjoyed reading the article and found it highly engaging, comprehensive in its coverage,and colorful in its description of the establishment and dishes.

  • Alex -- the Editor (author) said:


    The restaurant reviews so far are local to Oregon, but that will change in the future. They will become international in scope.

  • Alexandra -- Louisiana said:

    My interest has been further piqued after taking some time to peruse the Winners Within Us website. I particularly enjoyed this portion of the site devoted to restaurants, as this is where a lot of my professional interest lies. I established Shreveport’s first restaurant blog, Savoring Shreveport. Through Savoring Shreveport, I aim to turn people on to local, community-owned and operated restaurants that may otherwise be overlooked in favor of the large, ubiquitous chains that dominate the suburban landscape. I noticed that the restaurants profiled on Winners Within Us were all local establishments, as well–a cause which I heartily support! I believe that local businesses are at the heart of every great community across the country. Patronizing them not only has a positive impact on the local economy, but also on the sense of kinship and familiarity that binds residents and neighbors.

  • Jeffifer -- Washington said:

    When you are dining, you’re trying to get all the senses involved” for two reasons. First, if there’s at least one description of cream filled pastry or Herbs de Provence, the article is well worth ten minutes of my attention. Second, I’m currently writing a novel about the senses and am intrigued by another writer’s take on the subject. The article succeeded in delighting in that regard. In my mind, the chefs, artists, singers, dancers and other creators of beauty are most certainly winners, and I was thrilled to see one highlighted on your site. However, when I go for my daily dose of inspiration at Winners Within Us™
    , I’m looking for just that: the winner in the story. Happy as I am to wade through the pillows of Citrus Beurre Blanc and ladles of Lobster Bisque Soup, the true story has to be about the winning qualities featured within. The author’s succulent descriptions whet my palate, but I was longing to know more about our chef and his winning qualities. What spurred him and his wife to leave the celestial comforts of Chez Paul and risk it all on his American Dream? At any point during the adventure did he doubt his efforts, stop listening to his inner voice, or come close to giving up? And this mission to engage all of the senses–why is that important to him? Does he detect something in modern life that has been lost? Was he trying to slow down our rapacious American appetite so that dinner at his restaurant became less a meal and more a full-sensory experience–a transcendent experience? Surely attending the Cordon Bleu and roasting a rack of lamb is admirable, but this does not a winner make. I get an inkling of Chef Iain Duncan’s winner qualities, but I want to know more about the man who is worthy of admiration and provides my daily dose of inspiration.

  • Dollie Gull-Goldman said:

    This article really gives the reader the experience of dining at Le Bistro. Written in the present tense, it provides readers with that immediacy of the experience. I prefer present tense wherever it is applicable and use that writers’ device often. Makes me wish I lived in Corvallis!

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