The most candid feedback a boutique or bistro can receive is straight from the lips of a savvy, globe-trotting vacationer. So, when the Weekly Newspapers R.S.V.P.’d for a table for two at the new Blackfin Bistro on Duval, and ended up seated next to a former Bistro owner in Paris and his petite amie, we couldn’t help but press for his details about his dinner affair.

“I’ve been vacationing for three months. I’m 35-years old and I’m from Paris.”

Complete with an accent that pours as thick as Catena Malbec, Xavier Bellen a 35-year old Parisian and his girlfriend Stephanie Ramon, 30, breathe in their after-dinner menthols, and air their experience.

“We’re on a holiday,” exclaims Stephanie. Her back is turned towards Blackfin’s outside wall. Her hair is wisped up in a ponytail and she sits facing an open bar and idyllic bookcase shaped like a rowboat.  “We’re staying at the Duval Inn and shopping, shopping, shopping. That’s all we’ve done today, and we came here to eat.”

But, her boyfriend, Bellen, who just sold his Bercy Bistro in Paris’ 12 District, says he is delightfully surprised by the quality.

“I had the Hogfish, Xavier explains, “very good, very good taste.”

“The hog fish is pan sautéed and it’s done with a garlic chorizo dressing. Chorizo is Spanish sausage. The chef dresses it over a caramelized Spanish sausage. It goes with the fish so well, it brings the heartiness of it,” says Michael Castellano, Blackfin co-owner.

“When we opened the menu,” Stephanie goes on, “we thought it was a French restaurant, and then we discover the two bosses are American, but the chef is French.”

“His name is Tony Poulain,” Castellano dishes, “we’ve done a couple restaurants together in New York so this is not our first experience together.”

His two partners are his brother Joey Castellano, and Tom Quartararo, accompanied by Michael’s girlfriend, Suzane Gedney, a former broker for the mercantile exchange. The four set out to attain a restaurant that “was all ours,” with a nautical feel and New York City sleekness. The dishes embrace the local fish.

The Weekly starts with Escargot, prepared classically with parsley, garlic butter, and mushrooms, and Gazpacho.

“This dish is not chunky, it’s completely smooth,” describes Gedney.

“It’s whipped with bread and olive oil and, of course, tomatoes other vegetables and a little pepper,” remarks Michael.

The salad portions are so generous our table shared a Bistro salad, which is served with bacon, mixed greens and a hot, poached egg!

The Weekly also opted for an uncommon cut of meat, the Butcher’s Steak.

“This is a thinner steak and has a tremendous amount of flavor to it. You can’t cook it more than medium otherwise it gets tough,” Michael lets on to his 16 years of restaurant experience. “It comes with a port wine shallot sauce, and fresh hand cut fries.”

He paired the cut with a BR Cabernet, created in California by the former manager of the Doobie Brothers!

I start singing Old Black Water and Michael mentions the selection, “Sometimes people don’t want to commit to a bottle. We offer nice food, so we are running 15 cabs by the glass.”

“I like the style. You can hang out, get your stuff, eat, relax, its nice,” observes The Weekly’s dinner companion, as we unwind from another hectic, island day. All is totally forgotten when Michael puts a Chocolate Fondant on our table.

“This dessert is a fresh baked, chocolate sponge cake with a hot liquid molten, magma chocolate center which is great with a scoop of vanilla ice cream and some fresh homemade caramel on there,” Michael sets us up for the decadence, “once you cut the cake open, wait a second for it to air.”

Now we know why Xavier and Stephanie are planning a trek back to celebrate the New Year.

“We can not find the same quality in Naples and Miami,” Stephanie attests.

Xavier chimes in, “If they are open on New Year’s, we already discussed it. We will come back to eat here!”

Bonné Annee!

Xavier & Steph
Former Parisian bistro owner, Xavier Bellen and his femme, Stephanie Ramon note the importance of decoration and service. “But the most important thing is the food, and for us, this is very, very good.” Must be true. The worldly couple has made plans to dine at Blackfin to usher in 2010! Xavier and Steph



Perhaps the most sagacious server on Duval Street is hot off of Wall Street! Suzanne Gedney, owner, Michael Castenello’s girlfriend used to trade stocks, but she’s traded in her gig to give you a taste of the tropics! Suzanne Gedney




Michael Castanello has 16-years of restaurant experience in and around New York City. He actually has his undergrad degree in acting!Michael



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