Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Le Bistro dressed for the holidays

Usually I take a break from writing a Thanksgiving column to (a) avoid overtaxing the opu, and (b) considering that most people gorge on turkey, ham, pumkin pie and all the trimmings on Thanksgiving Day, I’ve always assumed few can stomach more feasting the day after.

Black Friday is typically more about shopping than food, but with the festive Christmas season officially under way, I figured a visit to Le Bistro would be a good way to remind people to start making their holiday reservations, lest they end up with their second or third choice of restaurant.

It was really the first time in my life that I’ve gone to a restaurant the day after Thanksgiving. It just goes against my upbringing of not being wasteful, seeking out a fresher option when perfectly good leftovers were sitting in my refrigerator.

Somehow, I wasn’t surprised to find the restaurant was packed. Le Bistro has long been an under-the-radar favorite—chef/owner Alan Takasaki isn’t a big self-promoter—of many
 a foodie in town, and over the years, several people have told me so. Yet, I’d never reviewed it.

Yes, I was there when it opened nearly a decade ago, but the opening was a little rough and I never found the time for a retry. That just shows, good times and bad, there’s been no shortage of new restaurants vying for attention. I was reminded Le Bistro was long due when Takasaki and his general manager Ron Kano did an impressive job catering a party I recently attended.

Christmas decorations at Le Bistro went up on Black Friday, but it’s not the season’s flourishes that make it so festive. The warm, intimacy of the room and staffers invite conviviality year ’round, making it a popular spot for special occasions, and I don’t believe other guests had entered Christmas mode yet. When I was there, two parties burst out in choruses of “The Happy Birthday Song.”

TAKASAKI, WHO counts Le Bernardin and restaurants in Bordeaux on his CV, before stints at Sam Choy’s Diamond Head and Alan T’s at Honolulu Club, is true to the bistro concept of French comfort food of the sort that sends diners into swoon mode. Even dieters must relax their inhibitions and know that one evening of pure pleasure is worth 364 days of sacrifice. You’ll find the real question is not what to order, but what not to order, when just about every dish is a winner.

Dinner might start with a French onion soup gratínee with a cap of gruyere ($7.80) or appetizer of escargot de Bourgogne ($9.80) in garlic-spiked olive butter. I was afraid for my heart when my dining companion, made queasy by the idea of eating snails, refused to try one, leaving me to finish them all! What? I already said I was raised in a household where food never went to waste.

A fricassee of shellfish ($12.80) was transportive, bringing back memories of dining in Seattle with a taste of plump, juicy Penn Cove mussels that were the star of the dish. Ah, it also made me long for a dish of moules frites. Something to add to the menu, perhaps? Manila clams in the dish were small and minor in comparison. If you want to go all-mussel, try the roasted version in Bordelaise sauce ($16.80).

Cool appetizers are available as well, including an ahi tartare ($14.80), Pacific Northwest oysters on the half shell ($16.80), and seared ahi ($16.80) given Euro treatment with a horseradish crust, a touch of goat cheese, the sting of Spanish vinegar and savory Bordelaise with a little spray of baby greens.

Whether you prefer la viande or fruits de mer, you’ll find plenty of dishes to satisfy. From the sea, there is pan-roasted sea bass ($29.80) topped with mushrooms, asparagus and truffle essence. Or choose New Zealand organic salmon ($28.80) grilled with gorgonzola and walnuts, or seared day boat scallops with lardons of Kurobuta pork ($32.80). Then there’s pan-roasted opah ($29.80) with Nicoise olives, thyme and tomatoes. There’s not a bad dish on the list, though it was the Maine lobster ($25.80 per pound) that was sold out the evening I was there.

Meat is generally cooked to a rosy medium, unless you have another preference. There is a rack of Colorado lamb with thyme jus ($39.80), caramelized bone-in Kurobuta pork chop ($32.80) with onion, red wine and balsamic vinegar, and twice-cooked breast of Muscovy duck ($28.80), which is pan seared, then grilled with steak-like results, then topped with porcini mushrooms and circled with a medley of tender diced turnips, baby carrots and chopped asparagus.

Beef lovers will be hard-pressed to choose from Black Angus ribe-eye with wild mushrooms, cognac and Roquefort butter ($29.80), a filet mignon with port wine sauce ($34.80 or $39.80 depending on portion), or red wine and peppercorn short ribs ($19.80 or 23.80). You could visit three times, or Takasaki generally offers an easy option in the form of a frequent dinner special. That is, a beef quartet featuring tasting portions of the filet mignon, rib-eye with marrow sauce, and shortribs, with the addition of a juicy Kobe slider with foie gras, and all the fixings—tomato, onions and lettuce—served in a little cup on the side. The melt-in-your-mouth shortribs were easily my favorite, though others will have a hard time picking one.

For dessert, you might want to try the house specialty, a thin apple tart built on a circle of puff pastry, with the thin-sliced apples coated in a glassy sugar glaze. It was accompanied by a scoop of vanilla bean ice cream and a sprinkling of pomegranate seeds. In Greek mythology, eating pomegranate seeds condemned the goddess Persephone to Hades’ underworld for part of the year, but here, it just added to the heavenly experience.

No comments:

Post a Comment