Here at Al Dente, we define fine dining not by the waiter’s crumb comb technique or whether you must wear a coat to enter. We believe that the finest dining is experiential. It’s the waiter’s banter with his customers, his attention to detail when describing the specials, how he goes out of his way to ensure that things are indeed gluten free for your daughter with Celiac disease, or his operatic rendition of Happy Birthday for the table next to you. It’s the floor managers that constantly circulate, keeping attentive eyes on how much is left in your glass and checking to see if another order has been placed before asking. It extends to the bread server, who brings you extra for your mussels, and how pâté and butter are served with hunks of baguette.
The art of experiential dining is practiced and preached at Huntington’s Bistro Cassis, a 50-seat French restaurant on Wall Street that is part of the Restar Hospitality Group‘s family of restaurants — a second Bistro Cassis is located on New York’s Upper West Side, and a third recently opened in Miami.
Our reservation for five — reservations are only accepted for parties of six or more — was cajoled by The Sister, whom regularly dines there regularly with her significant other. The small dining room was packed at 6:30 p.m. and remained that way during our nearly 2-hour stay.
The Bistro Cassis menu is presented as a folded square atop the place setting at each seat. A daily rotation of specials sits at the footer of the menu, while the rest of the selections are broken into small plates, entrees and mussels, as well as a small selection of pastas and salads. Dinners are reasonably priced for a restaurant of this caliber, with salads and small plates between $10 to $16, entrees between $26 to $37, and full orders of 25 mussels at $21. Raw oysters and clams are also available at market price.
The rotation of daily specials, priced $26 to $35, includes French classics like duck a l’orange on Tuesdays, coq au vin on Thursdays, bouillabaisse on Fridays and côtes de boeuf, or braised beef ribs, on Saturdays.
Everyone at the table went in a different direction. The Sister and her boyfriend, Brian, each ordered an appetizer and entree. I went with an app and mussels, while The Wife skipped an app and went directly to mussels.
Brian claims that Bistro Cassis makes the best shrimp cocktail he has ever ordered, crediting the thorough cleaning of the shrimp and a cocktail sauce that balances heat and sweet perfectly. Three jumbo shrimp, tails removed, were perched on the edge of a champagne coupe filled with red cocktail sauce.
I had decided when first looking at the menu that I would have mussels, but it was not until I saw the escargots persillés that I realized the shellfish would be my entree. The traditional French appetizer was served on a plate with six dimples, each one filled with a tender snail that had been baked in parsley and garlic butter, and topped with a cheese crouton. Snails are not found in abundance on Syracuse-area menus, so I covet the few opportunities to consume them. While The Sister sneered, I found myself enjoying the savory, creamy little gastropods.
Bistro Cassis presents mussels five different ways and our table ordered three of the preparations (the remaining are presented in either a tomato-garlic cream sauce or with pernod, fennel and cream). The Sister kicked off the apps with a half-order of mussels mariniere, cooked in white wine, thyme and parsley. The Wife chose Espagnole, or a Spanish-style preparation with chorizo and a saffron-tomato cream sauce. My order was au poivre, with green peppercorns, bacon lardons and a brandy cream sauce. Each order was served in a copper-domed pan with just enough liquid to cook the shellfish and mop at the end. Full orders came with about 25 mussels, while the half order had about a dozen. The mussels were cooked perfectly with balanced, bold flavors. Every shell was open, the fish was bright, and only a slight resistance when bitten.
The côtes de boeuf featured two large, bone-in short ribs braised in a red wine reduction and served with asparagus risotto. Brian described his meat as fork-tender and one of the best meals he ever had at the restaurant. The Sister’s roquefort and ham stuffed chicken was unlike any chicken cordon bleu you might have at a wedding reception. The sharp cheese and salty ham served as the base of the flavor with the white wine, tomato and herb sauce almost forgotten.
A traditional chocolate mousse served as the anchor the dessert menu with a pronounced bitter flavor as is often found in Belgian chocolate. Brian’s poached pear is the star of the dessert menu. The skinned tree fruit is poached in a honey and juice blend, and served fork tender. No one talked during dessert, including The Kid who was making quick work of her homemade gelato.
The service at Bistro Cassis was nothing less than exceptional: attentive without being overbearing. Glasses never went dry. Empty plates rarely sat on the table. Perfect. There is little else to say about Bistro Cassis and the experience it fosters. It is easy to see how they can build a loyal fanbase on Long Island, even among the most picky (Brian) and demanding (The Sister) eaters.
Bistro Cassis is located at 55-B Wall Street in Huntington, N.Y. It is open daily for lunch and dinner, and on Sundays for Brunch. Reservations are accepted for groups of six or more. Dinner and drinks for five, with tip, was $320.