When you first enter Tournesol, an eight-year-old French bistro in Long Island City, your first impression will be, “Wow, this place is small.” However, great things come in small packages.
Most patrons of Tournesol, located at 50-12 Vernon Boulevard, come away with the big impression that they just had great French cuisine. Despite a seating capacity for only 40 people, Tournesol – named as one of the Top Ten New Bistros in North America in Food & Wine magazine – has managed to steal the spotlight from its colleagues in Manhattan.
“‘Why open in Queens?’ Why not!” said owner Pascal Escriout. “It was because there was no French restaurant here and I wanted to be a pioneer.”
Tournesol, which means sunflower, concentrates on the cuisine of southwestern France, a region flanked by Mediterranean foods and wines on one side and the coastal Atlantic Bordeaux region on the other. The menu at Tournesol reflects the diversity.
At lunch, the salad choices run from fresh tuna and anchovies to melted brie and arugula with watermelon. The classic French dishes, Mussels with French fries, Quiche Lorraine, the not-too-oily or oniony French onion soup, and the crepe with ham and cheese – mouth-watering layers of French Swiss cheese enveloping diced pieces of juicy ham – are quite filling.
But don’t expect to find lunch items on the dinner menu and if you enjoy fois gras, dinner is when you want to stop by.
Tournesol offers a homemade terrine of duck liver (fois gras) with fig chutney. Though the taste of the cold liver pâté is for the intrepid, it is light and bold. Paired with the chutney, the fois gras tastes almost like a desert.
The dinner menu also features heavier meat entrees like the lamb shank, beef bourguignon, hanger steak and a larger array of seafood like scallops and salmon.
The lamb shank with dry fruit and couscous well represented the complexity of the chef’s cooking. The Arabic influence on this French dish was apparent from the strong inviting aroma of cumin, coriander, ginger and cinnamon emanating from the dish. The Israeli couscous had grains the size of pearls and with little effort the tasty lamb came off the bone. The tender flavor of the meat was well complemented by the fruits.
The grilled salmon with cauliflower gratin and port sauce was another satisfying dish. The salmon captured the smokiness of the fire but at the same time was not overpowering. The creamy baked cauliflower and sweetness of the port sauce added the right texture and balance to the fish.
The seared scallop with leeks and butternut squash puree was delightful. First, the presentation intrigued – the scallops came inside crisp fried phyllo dough which rested on the delicious butternut puree. The scallops were perfectly seared and excellent in flavor. The puree was a beautiful sweet and golden delight.
From neighboring tables, patrons could be overheard complementing the food. One woman, who had ordered the mussels, told her companion that, “the wine sauce is wonderful.” Two other patrons, after dinner as they exited the bistro, told the staff that they “would surely come again.”
The manager at Tournesol recommends making reservations for nights and weekends. A courtesy the usually packed bistro gives customers is the opportunity to wait for a table at Domaine Wine Bar a few doors down. Tournesol will call the wine bar when the table is ready.
Currently the most expensive entrée is $23 but most entrees average around $15. Appetizers are between $7 and $13.
The price is right and the mood is très chic. And right on the No. 7 train, a trip to southern France just got cheaper with a visit to Tournesol.
50-12 Vernon Boulevard
Long Island City, N.Y. 11101
Monday: 5:30 p.m. to 11p.m.
Tuesday to Thursday: 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. to 11 p.m.
Friday: 11:30 a.m to 3p.m. and 5:30 p.m. to 11:30 p.m.
Saturday: 11 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. and 11:30 p.m.
Sunday: 11 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. and 5 p.m. to 10 p.m.
Cash and American Express cards only.
Transportation: No. 7 train to Vernon-Jackson. Use Vernon Boulevard exit.
Tournesol French Bistro
50-12 Vernon Boulevard
Long Island City, NY