Loup de mer, which includes branzino, herbed couscous and asparagus, one of the entrées at Appétit, sits on the bar with bottles of wine and server/co-owner Dina Ortega in the background.Claire Racine|Westmore News
Loup de mer, which includes branzino, herbed couscous and asparagus, one of the entrées at Appétit, sits on the bar with bottles of wine and server/co-owner Dina Ortega in the background.

Claire Racine|Westmore News
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Port Chester has many ethnic restaurants representing cuisines from around the world. Still, there are several fares that are lacking. With the opening of a French bistro last month, food connoisseurs can cross one of those missing categories off the list.

Appétit Bistro opened May 22 in the tiny space in the Lyon Park shopping center on Willett Avenue that had been a burger joint and two different Colombian restaurants in rapid succession, most recently Javy's. It is located at 540A Willett, right next to Davy Byrnes.

This cute little bistro, serving modern French food with some Latin influences, was the creation of Port Chester residents Edwin Montoya and his brother-in-law, Edi Rivera. Both have been working in French restaurants since they immigrated to the United States from Guatemala. Dina Ortega, Montoya's girlfriend, also a Guatemalan native, has joined the team as the restaurant's pleasant server after having held the same position at Cousin Frankie's USA Grill in Port Chester for four years.

"The base is French," said Montoya, who started out at the now-defunct Bistro Citron in Scarsdale, was floor manager at BLT Steak in White Plains and most recently worked at Le Fat Poodle in Old Greenwich. "Whenever we change our menu, we will always do French. That is what we know."

He said the menu is 80% French. However, "to keep everyone happy, we throw in a few items from Italy and Belgium and the poo-poo platter is Asian. We try to take the best things out of everywhere to make a good and different menu."

Montoya, who couldn't be nicer, is the front man and business manager at Appétit while Rivera is the chef. Rivera has a decade of experience cooking in French restaurants, most notably almost 10 years at L'escale in Greenwich where one of his mentors was renowned chef Francois Kwaku-Dongo. Most recently he served as the chef de cuisine at Le Penguin in Greenwich.

After months of renovations, which Montoya and Rivera largely accomplished themselves, they transformed a casual Colombian sandwich shop into a simply striking French bistro with charcoal gray walls offset by white wainscoting. Elegant brushed silver and cut glass light fixtures line the only open wall of the cozy space. White cloths topped with white paper cover the tables, and light wood chairs as well as matching stools with delicate-looking crisscrossed backs seat a total of 24, four of those at the bar. Deep red napkins closely match the color of the seat cushion in the front window. In the evening faux candles on the tables create a romantic atmosphere.

The only French element of the décor is a clock behind the black bar, a section of which is crowded with wine bottles, with an outline of the Eiffel Tower.

Music plays in the background, some in French, some in English.

To make their dream a go, Montoya and Rivera worked on it during their off hours and quit their previous jobs only two weeks before opening their own place.

Most popular dishes

French cuisine is one of my favorites, and there's a lot to like at Appétit Bistro, which is now serving lunch and dinner as well as brunch on Saturday and Sunday. The menu is expected to change seasonally to take advantage of fresh produce.

I've been for dinner three times and thoroughly enjoyed every meal.

Lemon Sole in a Caper Brown Butter Sauce with fingerling potatoes and spinach ($24) and classic Duck a l'orange with an orange reduction sauce, wild rice and orange sections ($23), have been the most popular entrées, cheese fondue ($18) and Tartare de Thon (tuna tartare) with avocado and soy lime dressing and gaufrettes (wafers of crisply fried potato cut to resemble a small waffle) ($14) the favorite starters, according to Montoya. Cheese fondue is always fun and accompanied by salad can make a perfectly fine lunch or dinner.

A perfect meal

My first meal at Appétit Bistro with my husband was superb, and I came away raving about everything. We started with tomato gazpacho ($7), the soupe du jour. Slightly creamy, not chunky, served at room temperature and topped with avocado chunks and chopped red pepper, this gazpacho was delicious.

A small basket of French bread with olive oil was served to the table. The bread has since been changed to toasted flatbread, also good but not what you'd expect at a French bistro, until they can find a company that makes baguettes that are not too crusty and messy, Montoya said.

The Escargots en Croute ($11) are traditional served in a ceramic crock with five holes around the outside and one in the middle filled with a snail each (one had two) swimming in pastis maître d' butter made with the anise-flavored apéritif from France, butter, garlic and shallots and each hole topped with a tiny puff pastry to use for soaking up the butter. This appetizer in its totality was extremely tasty and I could not make out any anise flavor, so it must be very subtle.

The Cilantro Lime Shrimp ($24) was outstanding. It consisted of a wheel of five large, perfectly cooked shrimp in a flavorful citrus vinaigrette made with orange, grapefruit and lime juice, lemon zest and olive oil as well as chopped scallions, tomato, red pepper and pieces of orange served on a bed of Yukon whipped potatoes and topped with supposedly spicy green beans although I didn't find them to be.

Mussels in a Saffron Tomato Sauce ($19) brought a generous portion in a large clear bowl. The mussels were small but plentiful and came in a delicate, savory yellow sauce with bits of tomato in it. There is also the choice of a buttery wine mariniere sauce. This dish is usually served as Moules-Frites with French fries, but my husband substituted the jalapeno mashed potatoes, listed as a side, which were out of this world with a green hue and just the right amount of spiciness.

We had a glass of Hawks Dale Chardonnay ($8) from California and another of Sophie Bertin Sancerre ($13) from the Loire Valley in France to accompany our meal, both of which were delightful.

Coffee came with a pitcher of warm milk, and a generous slice of lemon tart was as it's named-tart-but at the same time light and heavenly served with whipped cream and a sprig of mint on the side.

Dina Ortega was our friendly, efficient server. Montoya always lends a hand as well.

Our check came to $89.45, but the dessert and coffee were on the house, a nice gesture for first time customers.

The goal is to heat the milk for coffee or at least serve it at room temperature, Montoya said. "I think coffee is really important; it's finishing your meal."

Other recommendations

Besides our first meal, another thing I can recommend is what's listed on the menu under appetizers as simply bacon ($9). It brings three slabs of thick smoked Applewood bacon topped with slightly spicy chimichurri sauce made with parsley, sage, oregano, garlic, shallots and chili flakes. Meaty and with a strong flavor, this bacon will surely wake up your taste buds.

I also enjoyed the cucumber/avocado gazpacho ($7), which was given out as one of the restaurant's many samples at Taste of Port Chester and was the soupe du jour on my last visit. Savory and creamy with chunks of avocado in the middle and microgreens as a garnish, it was a tad vinegary.

The Ravioli aux Champignons Sauvages ($18 for entrée) brings five house made ravioli stuffed with wild mushrooms configured with peas and sliced mushrooms in the middle of the plate and topped with shredded cheese. These are delicate to the touch and taste.

Having majored in French in college, I recognize some spelling/grammar mistakes on the menus that should be corrected.

Savory specials

Besides the menu, there are daily soup, appetizer and entrée specials listed on a chalk board-usually one of each. On my last visit all of the specials were appealing-the cucumber/avocado gazpacho, crab cake entrée and Caesar salad.

Wines, beers and cocktails

Besides the food, the wine, beer and wine cocktail menu is appealing at Appétit, which only has a beer and wine license rather than a full liquor license, at least for now. Theirs is not a huge wine list, but the largely French, California and Italian wines, with a few outliers, are very drinkable and reasonably priced. Most can be ordered by the glass or bottle, with glasses ranging from $7 to $13 and bottles from $24 to $98, with many in the $30 bracket.

On our second visit, my husband had a $6 glass of Rode Cellars Merlot, which was exceptionally smooth and flavorful. It now seems to have increased in price to $7.

I also raved about the Claret Lemonade wine cocktail (all are $9) made with red wine, lemons and limes muddled and strained, a bit of orange and simple syrup. "It has just the right amount of everything," Montoya said. It is frothy and neither too sweet nor tart.

"So far it is working great, especially with the seasonal rosés," said Montoya about only having a wine and beer license. "Everybody like a rosé in the summer."

I also sampled a bottle of the Leinenkugel Summer Shandy ($5), a light beer combined with lemon for a clean, light taste perfect for a hot summer day.

As far as the prices, Montoya said "we are trying to get affordable wines that you can drink every day and won't be as expensive as other restaurants."

Seasonal desserts

Scrumptious desserts made by the chef are another highlight at Appétit Bistro. Subject to change, they are listed on a blackboard at the back of the restaurant. So far they have been kept pretty much the same, but some seasonal changes are currently in the works. This week pastry chef Giovani Castellon, Montoya's cousin, was helping the restaurant come up with some new seasonal desserts such as peach melba with a mixed berry compote, fresh peaches and whipped cream; bananas brulées featuring strawberries, blueberries, caramelized bananas, vanilla ice cream and whipped cream; mixed berries with lemon sorbet and a champagne sauce and fruit crepes. Tarte Tatin ($10), an exquisite, buttery upside down apple tart, and carrot cake will remain permanent fixtures on the dessert menu.

Lunch

Lunch is served Monday through Sunday from 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Besides many of the same items as on the dinner menu a dollar or two cheaper, the lunch menu features more salads, Croque Monsieur and Madame ($11/$12), wraps and sandwiches. A Croque Monsieur is a grilled ham and cheese sandwich topped with béchamel cheese. It becomes a Croque Madame when a fried egg is placed on top of it.

Brunch

Brunch is offered Saturday and Sunday during the same hours as an alternative to lunch. The menu is posted on the blackboard up front. Eggs Benedict ($11) and Stuffed French Toast ($9) are recommended by Montoya, who also said "the crepes are amazing." They are made with orange segments, vanilla ice cream and covered in an orange reduction sauce ($8). A ham and Swiss omelette ($11) and banana pancakes with maple syrup ($7.50) also figured on last weekend's menu. You can also get eggs any style.

Hours, parking and future plans

Dinner is served 5:30 to 10 p.m. Monday through Thursday, Friday and Saturday till 11 and Sunday till 9. Limited parking is available in a lot in front of the shopping center and more free spots can be found on the street. In addition, Montoya said, "we will probably make arrangements to use the lot next door, but parking hasn't really been an issue. There is plenty of street parking and these 14 spaces [out front] people are in and out."

If business is booming, Appétit Bistro could expand into the vacant store next door. "They [the landlord] are holding it for us," Montoya said. "They really want us to go in there. We have to see how everything is going to work out on this one first before we commit to anything else."

Next spring Montoya also plans to add tables on the sidewalk for outdoor dining.

"Business has so far been very good after people got to know we were here," Montoya added "After the Taste of Port Chester, we took off really good."