Bess's Bistro Revisited
An old college buddy and I ate at Sandra Bullock's place last night, inspite of the less than tepid reviews on Chowhound. With overwhelmingly low expectations I must say that I was very pleasantly surprised! First let me praise our server, Amy, who was one of the nicest surprises of the evening. She made us feel at home, was attentive but not overbearing, she was very knowledgeable about the food and was right on the money with her recommendations. The . The restaurant is downstairs and somehow walking under the awning and down the stairs transports you into a total restaurant experience. The space itself is very comfortable, albeit claustrophobic with the low ceilings. Its hard to explain, but the space has a tremendous attraction and magnetism. It just feels different, fun vibrant, mysterious, romantic--different in a good way. Drinks at the bar were prompt, and stout. We ate early and had no wait. Our table was very nice and we had no trouble hearing ourselves talk even as the restaurant filled up. One complaint and I think it is a big one--the booth type seats are wayyyyyy toooooo low! My friend sat down on one and his chin barely reached the table top. No way anyone can sit in one comfortably. Aside from that glitch we had the artichoke hearts and they were great, the fried spinach adds a wonderful texture and flavor to the chokes, and the dipping sauce is excellent. My friend had the chicken which he loved and I ate the ham sandwich (they call it a croquet) with an egg on top. It was very salty but edible, and plentiful but I thought the egg didn't add anything to it. It was good but not in the same class as the egg sandwich at Hyde Park Grill. The frys were good when hot but coagulated quickly and lost some of their allure. The ketchup was interesting and flavorful. I would rate my friends meal as about an 8 and mine about a 7. Still that's a huge step up from the earlier reviews and our expectations. Another quirk that I would jettison is the menus. Bess's uses a huge board to mount their menu on and it is extremely cumbersome. There were only two of us at the table but even then it was difficult to manuver the boards into place and difficult to set them down after deciding. The decisions were made easier by the dirth of dishes on the menu, check out her website and you'll see what I mean. Thanks again to Amy for making our evening pleasant far beyond my expectations. Oh by the way, the lighting is very dim down in the basement, perhaps it would help to provide some sort of lighting to read the bill--just a suggestion.
argh, i just wrote a long descript. of our experience at Bess' last Friday and then lost it. so the condensed version: tried the Bess' cocktail (demi-sec on ice w/ a squeeze of lime). refreshing, but it had too much ice. our server (who did a great job, but i can't remember her name) offered to bring me a second cocktail w/ less ice without me even commenting on the ice. i took her up on it and appreciated it. Appetizer: smoked bacon mussels. i'm not usually a huge bacon fan, but the smokey sauce was sooo good. soaked it up with bread. we also shared the herb lettuce salad. it came w/ toasted walnuts and orange vinaigrette. i only realized later that the advertised raspberries were absent. but i think i was tipsy enough by then not to notice, so it wasn't a big deal. for entrees, husband got pork w/ apples and cherry sauce. great cool-weather comfort food. i got porcini-crusted halibut w/ crabmeat in vermouth cream sauce. i couldn't really detect the porcini flavor, but the sauce was tasty, the fish was moist, and the crabmeat was generous. finished w/ flourless chocolate cake, which DID come w/ berries, so that was nice. i love anything chocolate, so i enjoyed this plenty. overall, we really enjoyed our dinner. loved the underground-ness and the dim lighting. would return, maybe on a Wed to try out the short rib special.
I've had two visits to Bess in the last 6 months. One the first trip shortly after they opened, I ordered the special, which was an Empanada with Mole Sauce. It was wonderful -- I wasn't expecting to order an empanada when I went there and was almost a little put off by the fact that that was the special in a "french" restaurant. Let me tell you, I loved every bite of it. We were with a group of 4 - good service, informative and pleasant waiter, not wait on a Thursday night about 7pm.
A few months ago my wife and I decided to return. The empanada wasn't anywhere to be found, so I ordered two appetizers to eat together as an entree - crabcakes and Shrimp Creole. The crabcakes were two small cakes, overcooked on the outside so as to when I cut them with a fork the entire cake smashed down instead of breaking apart easily. The waiter brought a bowl of clams with my crabcakes instead of the shrimp I ordered. I told him I actually ordered the shrimp, and he looked at me confused like I didn't know what i was talking about. I told him that I would never order clams, and he walked away without saying a word. He eventually brought the Shrimp later without an apology or discount on the bill. Four shrimp were arranged in a bowl, floating in a very thin soup like sauce -- very average tasting. The sauce tasted strongly of alcohol. Honestly, I can't remember what my wife ate either time. She must not have enjoyed it very much.
Due to the disappointing experience the second time, I can't see us going back. If I was invited to a group dinner there I would go, but for the money, I wouldn't bother going back if it was just my wife and I. On a positive note, I like the ambiance and the nice selection of beers on tap.