Picture a dining room with sea blue walls, fresh flowers, the glow of candlelight and crisp, white linens on the tables.
Imagine a mirrored mahogany bar imported from England around 1841. Envision yourself on a culinary quest, comfortably seated and watching servers breeze by carrying trays filled with classical French fare and bottles of fine wine. You might feel like you’ve been transported to Paris, but you haven’t even left York County. Welcome to the Blue Heron restaurant.
Blue Heron opened its intimate, 35-seat South Queen Street location in 2006 and relocated to a spacious 90-seat location along East Market Street in York in November of 2012. “This location is fantastic,” says proprietor and chef David LeHeron. “It’s the most economically developed in the county.”
LeHeron and his team took over the space formerly occupied by Villa Medusa and Marcello’s Pizza, and set about creating the ambiance of a truly classic French restaurant.
“Eating well is part of our culture,” says LeHeron, who spent his childhood in Normandy, France, along the English Channel. “We were always picking and canning fresh vegetables and enjoying fresh mussels, clams and shrimp from the sea.”
His mother never allowed him to cook, though, believing that he would be unable to satisfy her standards for food handling and preparation. It wasn’t until he went off to study logistics at the University of Marseille that he began to prepare lavish meals for his friends.
“Cooking is very primal,” says LeHeron, who taught himself the nuances of fine regional cooking and brought his craft to the United States. He now incorporates Mediterranean, Vietnamese and African influences into his dishes.
At Blue Heron, LeHeron employs two chefs and a supporting staff so he can focus his energies on the front of the house. Chef Mourad Harouz was born and raised in Algeria and was classically trained as a chef in France. His resume includes work in Spain and Italy and at the former Le Bec Fin in Philadelphia. According to LeHeron, Harouz has a very good command of Mediterranean cuisine.
Chef Jordan Smith, on the other hand, brings Chesapeake Bay specialties with a Southern flair to the Blue Heron’s menu. He was trained at the Culinary Institute of America and rounded out his experience with work on Maryland’s Eastern Shore.
Blue Heron specializes in seafood and classical French dishes like Steak au Poivre (an eight-ounce cut of filet mignon served in a Brandy peppercorn sauce), Coq au Vin (fresh cuts of chicken marinated with herbs, mushrooms and onions and served in a red wine broth) and Boulibaisse (a blend of fresh seafood in a savory saffron broth). The restaurant relies on the farmers of Central Market and Penn Street Farmers Market in York for fresh, seasonal produce – including plump heirloom tomatoes and fragrant herbs. “We have the good fortune to be located in York County, where farmers produce great quality vegetables,” says LeHeron.
It was an otherwise unremarkable wintry Tuesday night when my friends and I visited Blue Heron for dinner. LeHeron greeted us with his characteristic hospitality and enthusiasm. He was in his element in the front of the house – greeting, seating and checking in on diners as they enjoyed their meals, sharing tidbits of information about menu items and ensuring that patrons felt welcome and nourished in his space.
I shared a bottle of Boujolais with my dinner companions. Produced in 2010 by Chateau De Jarinoux, it was a deep burgundy-colored wine with bright notes of fresh strawberry. Our server delivered freshly baked bread with roasted garlic and lemon pepper butter to the table.
We shared the frog legs appetizer. The tender, meaty portions were dredged in buttermilk, tossed in flour, gently pan-fried to golden perfection and served with a garlic butter and herb drizzle.
Our server, Jason, treated our little group with patience and spoke to us in a warm, friendly tone. We were thrilled when he appeared at the table with our beautifully presented entrees. Mine was the citrus salmon, an eight-ounce broiled salmon filet in a tangy citrus and fennel sauce with a side of garlic mashed potatoes and a vegetable medley of sauteed zucchini, cabbage, carrots and onions. My friends got the beef Bourginon (a classic French beef stew), Parisian hicken (a tender, moist cut of chicken served with basmati rice pilaf seasoned with cumin) and Moles Frites (a grand bowl of meaty steamed mussels in a garlic and herb broth with a side of pomme frites with rouille dipping sauce).
As we enjoyed our meals, I noticed that the dining room surrounding us was full.
At 7:30 p.m. on a Tuesday, there was not an open table in the house.
A din of satisfaction filled the room as Jason presented the dessert tray. Dessert options included creme caramel, creme brulee and chocolate mousse (all made in-house), along with an array of artful pastries from Janina’s Fine Desserts. My friends and I shared creme brulee and Janina’s praline cake. The cake was so light that the layers compressed together immediately, enhancing the tastes of butter cream, chocolate and a hint of hazelnut. And everyone at our table agreed that the creme brulee – with its creamy, mild vanilla flavor and crunchy sugar topping – was the best we’d ever tasted.
When you visit Blue Heron, you should plan for a leisurely dining experience – a relaxed meal with time and space to sink deep into conversation as you enjoy a constellation of regional flavors. As we wrapped up our dinner, my friends and I started planning another visit – this time for Sunday brunch. I have my eye on the crab, asparagus, Bechamel and herb crepe.
• 3320 East Market Street, York; 846-1100
• Monday-Saturday, 11 a.m.-9 p.m. and Sunday, 11 a.m.-2 p.m. and 3-9 p.m.