Voilà, Lewiston’s New French-Inspired Restaurant, Bon Vivant

The welcoming eatery in a former Subway sandwich shop has a certain je ne sais quoi.

sour-cream-striped barbecued carrots and tobiko-studded French onion dip with malted-vinegar potato chips from bon Vivant
By Brian Kevin
Photos by Dave Waddell
From our May 2024 issue

Ah, Français! The language of love! When the turreted Victorian building at 133 Lisbon Street was constructed in 1895, you’d have commonly heard it spoken outside, on the streets of downtown Lewiston, a few blocks from the tenement neighborhood known as Little Canada. These days, the building’s ground floor — formerly occupied by une petite boulangerie called Subway — is home to bon Vivant, one of the more welcoming and higher-executing restaurants to open in Maine last year.

Its founding partners had intended to open it sooner. The folks behind bon Vivant first launched Sonder & Dram, an exquisite speakeasy-style cocktail bar, in the basement of the same building, back in 2018. They include chef Michael Gosselin, a Lewiston native who won hometown accolades during some 11 years in the kitchen at the dearly departed bistro Fuel. At Sonder, working out of a kitchen smaller than a food truck, he created a toothsome bar menu, but not one that let his Culinary Institute of America–honed chops shine. “We knew from the outset there was a restaurant in the works with Michael’s hand and feel,” says Peter Flanders, a partner in both establishments. “But then the pandemic came, and that was pretty rugged.”

Clockwise from left: jewel tones punch up the inky dining space; chef Michael Gosselin; Vouvray meets whiskey in The 1795 cocktail.

Plans for bon Vivant went on hold in 2020. When Flanders, Gosselin, and their partners rebooted them, more than two years later, step one was to gut the former Subway space. (“We left a few walls up, around the bathroom,” Flanders says). The team installed a brand-new kitchen, a six-stool bar with a sexy Art Deco backbar, and seating for 50 in a room that feels slick but not fancy-pants, with exposed-brick walls, whimsical patterned wallpapers, and bits of campy, thrifted décor.

Bon Vivant
133 Lisbon St., Lewiston.
207-330-3021.
Price Range
Entrées $28–$38. Small plates $7–$24. Prix fixe $55–$70.
Daytime Menus
Highlights of Friday lunch and weekend brunch include a dynamite croque monsieur and a brie-and-tomato-jam burger.
Desserts
Among other things, crème brûlées with perfectly crisp, caramelized tops. On a spring visit, a maple eclair, timed for sap season, was a thing of beauty.

Behind my table on a recent visit: a Goodwill-sourced oil painting of a pipe-clenching, Hemingway-esque sea skipper. Captain Vivant, as he is evidently known, glowered at my wife and me as we ordered a flawless old-fashioned and a cosmo off a cocktail menu all but limited to classics (“We put little twists on them,” Flanders says, “but that way it doesn’t compete with downstairs”). Starters were a plate of tempura-fried artichokes and a bowl of French onion soup. We skipped the sea-salt buns, so as not to fill up, but that might have been foolish — they’re made fresh daily and served with a lovely dab of whipped honey butter. The artichokes, crispy and light, came with an almost floral herbed aioli. The soup was rich and generous on the Swiss cheese; I all but scraped the bowl.

Bon Vivant’s menu is divided into a three-course prix-fixe option, a selection of small plates, and a list of entrées heavy on meat dishes (veggie ones are always an option, Gosselin says, even if a given night’s menu doesn’t include any). We opted for pork in two very different dishes: a grilled tenderloin — which came gorgeously plated on a bed of apple puree, alongside some oh-so-tender broccolini and fingerling potatoes — and a braised-pork ragu over cavatelli. Both were luscious, some Calabrian chiles giving the ragu a sweet smokiness so distinct from the juicy tenderloin it was strange to think the pork might have come from the same animal, butchered down the road at Farmers’ Gate Market, in Leeds.

From left: pan-roasted duck atop a fennel puree; sour-cream-striped barbecued carrots; tobiko-studded French onion dip with malted-vinegar potato chips; toasted pecan-topped maple eclair.

Local sourcing is at the heart of Gosselin’s menus, which change evening by evening, season by season. He describes the restaurant’s style as New American, but the French influence — which owes, in part, to Gosselin’s own Franco heritage — is evident throughout. Among the few consistent dishes are a beef tartare, served with pickled shallots and porcini aioli, and a bistro-style pan-roasted duck that’s proven so popular, he’s loathe to take it off the menu. But Gosselin doesn’t get hung up on labels — his attitude towards characterizing his cuisine is, let’s say, laissez-faire. “I have a very simple philosophy,” he says. “I just want to make delicious food for people.”

May 2024, Down East Magazine

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