RW Review: Lunch at Bistro Bis

I’ll try to keep this short – there are dozens of RW reviews out there, and information overload and paralysis is certainly possible.

Your editor along with three former coworkers visited Bistro Bis for lunch on Thursday. Bistro Bis, in the Hotel George near Union Station, is the sister restaurant to Vidalia and describes itself as a “very modern version of a French Bistro.” BB was serving a relatively extensive Restaurant Week menu, though as Todd Kliman noted, they have a significant number of upcharges: at least half of the menu items required at least a $3-$6 charge above the $20.08 cost of lunch.

Generally the biggest complaint about Restaurant Week is the service: it tends to be rushed, forgetful and somewhat rude. After all, these people are dealing with considerably larger crowds than they would see ordinarily (not that that excuses them). The service at Bistro Bis, however, was largely excellent, with only two exceptions: first, they brought our entrees very quickly after our appetizers; though I hadn’t finished my appetizer  (it was very large), they whisked it away and replaced it with my meal. Also, they pulled the whole “put the check down on the table before dessert was served” manuever – obviously they were hoping to push us towards the door. Servers were very helpful however, our water glasses were conscientiously refilled and any questions or concerns we had were promptly answered. I wasn’t that bothered by the service at all.

The food, however, was a somewhat more mixed proposition. Returning to those appetizers: my dining colleagues had vichyssoise, onion soup and a heirloom beet-goat cheese salad (a $3 upcharge). The beet salad looked beautiful, though I didn’t have a chance to taste it. Nobody raved about their dishes, but everyone seemed satisfied. I had moulles au curry (another $3 upcharge, worth it completely), which I think was the highlight of my meal. First of all, it was gigantic: a huge bowl of mussels in a warm curry-and-cream broth. I’ve always enjoyed active dining – in this case, the act of opening the mussels, spooning up a little broth, and sucking the whole concoction down was a lot of fun. Of course, I made a mess, but these things happen. When they took away the pot, still about on fifth full of mussels, I knew I was in trouble for the rest of the meal.

Entrees were a little more mixed as well. We had the salmon with lentils (two diners), the braised pork belly and the summer vegetable risotto. Once again, the dishes were quite prettily presented: the salmon was a very delicate pink which presented beautifully with the dark beluga lentils. We were split on actual taste of the salmon, however; one diner thought it was delicious, one not so much. This might have had to do with how they had it cooked, though; the salmon rated “delicious” was rare, while the other salmon was medium. Remember, fish is best when it is just barely cooked, whether it is salmon, tuna or halibut. Save the overcooked fish for the all-you-can-eat fry.

The pork belly earned general raves: really how can you go wrong with a bacon steak? As for my risotto, I think it fell into the trap that risottos often do. It was executed really nicely: the rice was tender but toothy and the dish set up well, but the major problem was the flavor. Summer vegetables in this case meant a lot of squash, which, while delicious, is not the strongest flavored stuff out there. The risotto was essentially a cheesy mass with the vegetables contributing various textural variations. There were halved cherry tomatoes, which were delicious, but this wasn’t a “tomatoey” dish by any means. According to the menu, the risotto was made with fines herbes; I guess I could have used a few more.

As for dessert, it largely followed in the same vein as the rest of the meal. We had the toffee-chocolate bread pudding and the creme brulee cheesecake. The bread pudding was somewhat disappointing: strongly flavored with chocolate, it lacked the promised toffee taste. The creme brulee cheesecake on the other hand was quite nice: the faintest of brulee crusts, a nice citrusy flavor, a light graham cracker crust. A great summer dessert.

All in all, Bistro Bis did an acceptable job for lunch. I hate to damn with faint praise, but I don’t know what else to say: I enjoyed my lunch and I thought everything was tasty, though only one thing was really superlative. Would I recommend it? Probably not my combination of plates exactly. Though I must say, as we were leaving, I saw the trout entree and immediately had a serious case of meal envy: it looked delicious. It is possible I think to create a good Restaurant Week lunch at Bistro Bis; you just have to be smart about how you choose.

See the Bistro Bis menu here.

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