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“The dishes are a mix of our versions of favorites from Paris but we’ve worked to elevate each dish to be the best version of itself.”

It started with bicycle rides in Paris. Chefs Walter and Margarita Manzke often explored the French capital’s sights and restaurants on bikes. 

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The chefs of Republique, Petty Cash, Sari-Sari Store in Los Angeles, as well as Wildflour Cafe and Bakery in Manila point out that the bistros feel like someone’s house. They have a certain look and vibe that is different from what is seen in the US. 

The chef couple translated this love and appreciation for quaint Parisian restaurants and “the delicious meals we’ve enjoyed” into Bicyclette, their own take on the French bistro. 

“Bicyclette is two concepts in one,” Walter says. It occupies a storied two-floor building once home to the city’s beloved restaurants Sotto Pizzeria and Picca.

On the ground floor is a cozy, 80-seat bistro with intimate corner tables, dark wood accents, and vintage church pews. Personal music favorites fill the space, along with walls adorned with eclectic art, as well as nods to the people and places that have inspired the Manzkes throughout their careers. 

On the second floor, a grand, contemporary fine-dining restaurant is set to open later this year, featuring an expansive bar, beautiful high ceilings, luxurious plush fabrics, and grand leather banquettes.   

Keeping it French

The menu, Walter explains, is “firmly rooted in France.”

“The dishes are a mix of our versions of favorites from Paris but we’ve worked to elevate each dish to be the best version of itself,” he says. “We use the same seasoning as the classic, but we make it a bit more special without making it too fussy or overworked in the true spirit of French food.” 

Soft Shell Crab Grenobloise

For instance, their Burgundy escargot en croute or snails drenched in garlic butter and topped with puff pastry is a dish Walter learned to make back in 1990. 

“I learned to make it in San Diego from a chef I was working for,” he says. “It’s a very simple dish and there just hasn’t been a better way to do that dish, in my opinion.” 

Their spin on bouillabaisse or fish stew is not traditional, either. Instead of boiling all the seafood at once, they cook each ingredient including the fish bones and shrimp shells separately to its optimal texture and doneness before plating it with slow-cooked broth.

Similarly with their coq au vin or a casserole of red wine-cooked chicken and bacon pieces, they opted to roast the chicken “to make the skin nice and crispy before plating it with the rich sauce” rather than braising it because “it is often overcooked and tends to have soggy skin.”

A multicourse dinner at Bicyclette always comes with Margarita’s traditional Parisian baguette, paired with Rodolphe Le Meunier’s demi-sel butter from Normandy, duck liver mousse, or Surryano ham. 

“[It] elevates everything,” Walter says of his wife and business partner’s baking, who happens to be a nominee for James Beard Award—the “Oscars” of food—for three consecutive years. 

White Asparagus and Leeks a la Vinaigrette

Her selection tarts, which an LA Times review describes as “sublime,” are also proving to be crowd favorites. 

Other must-tries include the indulgent soft egg in shell with caviar, the savory and caramelized onion tart tatin, and beef short rib a la Bourguignonne.   

Their French-only wine selection, highlighting the best of France with all major appellations and styles represented, rounds out the meals. 

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“Our dynamic wine list changes frequently to match the seasonal menu offerings,” Walter says. “Our talented service and sommelier team will guide your wine experience through each course.”

There’s also a selection of cocktails to enjoy pre- or post-meal.

“The Le Marais cocktail will take you to Paris,” Margarita adds. Inspired by the historic district of the same name, the drink includes Floc de Gascogne, Absinthe, almond, cucumber, lime, and celery. 

Pandemic success

Since opening last June, the reception to Bicyclette, according to Walter and Margarita, has been “overwhelmingly positive.”

This is despite what has been a challenging year for food and beverage establishments due to pandemic-induced lockdowns. The chefs admit that the bistro is no exception from the challenges of the pandemic. 

But finding success in such a difficult time is likely because of their many experiences in opening and operating other food establishments, where they never compromised their standards.

“It has certainly guided the choices we made in creating the Bicyclette concept, from quality staffing to ingredient-sourcing selections,” they say. “The primary difference of Bicyclette— specifically the bistro—was crafting our menu in a way that best exemplified traditional Parisian faire.” 

When the second-floor restaurant opens later this year, its tasting menu “will be French in foundation while highlighting the best of regional ingredients and modern culinary technique.”

Family, not a team

But the key to their success goes beyond their food. 

The two say that their focus is and always has been the health and well-being of their staff and guests. In doing so, they hope that the bistro will ultimate thrive. 

With the chef couple as leads, Bicyclette is run by a team of experienced individuals. Chef de Cuisine Joe Garcia, who joined the bistro from The French Laundry, is in charge of the kitchen team helping execute Walter’s menu. 

Patrick Freitas, who previously managed three properties for Chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten in New York City, serves as the bistro’s general manager. The bar team and its creative cocktail program is overseen by veteran beverage director, Shawn Lickliter. Wine director Sarah Clarke, who previously served as beverage director at Mozza Restaurant Group, manages the extensive French wine library.  

On who they attribute the success of their spaces to, Walter and Margarita say it’s family.

“It starts with our love for each other and our two beautiful children, Nico and Olivia,” Walter says. “But our family doesn’t end there for us. Our guests, as well as our hard-working, loyal, and talented staff are part of it, too. Our hopes to reach a common goal is what keeps us together and we are so proud to see our family grow as Bicyclette continues to emerge as a prominent figure on the Los Angeles restaurant horizon.” 

This story first came out in the October 2021 issue of Lifestyle Asia.

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