Elle M'a Dit
I go to restaurants for food, so atmosphere and surroundings, décor and atmosphere are usually not very important. But there are limits, as my trip to Elle M'a Dit on Baldwin proved.
Upon arrival, you are led up a creaky stairway to the “dining room.” It is actually the living room of an old house. In its natural state. Nothing has been done to brighten or to decorate in the slightest. It is just four old plaster walls. The lighting is supplied by a couple of suspended light globes. With the plain wooden table, there isn’t even a white tablecloth to dispel the gloom. . It is the darkest, dingiest, depressing and vaguely unsettling place I’ve seen in a long time. OK, I maybe the food would make up for it.
I ordered the coq au vin with spatezle. It was fairly good but not distinguished. However, the portion was small and it didn’t come any salad or greens. Astoundingly, they don’t even serve bread with the meal. My wife order baeckeoffe, a casserole of tasteless and tough overcooked meat cubes that has been cooked to death under a layer of equally tasteless sliced potatoes. At least she got a side salad.
i prefer the downstairs, it has much more atmosphere than the upstairs.
that being said, you ended up with some of the less interesting dishes. that baeckeoffe seemed promising but was not good. i think the tongue was an amazing dish which gave me hope for the coq au vin but that fell a bit short the same way you experienced. the current tongue on the menu is different than the one i had - gnocchi vs foie. their traditional tarte flambee is great and the desserts are really nice especially if you're not a sugar fiend.
I have had good experiences at Elle M'a Dit both times I've been there but wasn't as put off at the setting as you were, so perhaps that had a big impact on our respective views. I personally think the location is good and in the summer there is a cute little patio out front - I quite enjoy the atmosphere on Baldwin so find that to be very nice. The upstairs room is plain, to be sure, but didn't feel so different to me than many small french bistros I've been to in smaller centres in Europe. I would agree it is far from flashy, though.
As to the food - I have found it to be very solid - along the lines of most other mid priced bistros I frequent, including Weezie's, The Gabardine, Rosebud, Sidecar, Le Petit Dejeuner, La Palette and even Le Select. I've generally had the specials - on one occasion that was a short rib and on another a wild boar stew. I have found the starters to be good (in particular the smoked trout salad) and the tartes excellent. I agree the portions are on the small side but I am one of those who find the portion size at most restaurants to be too large and certainly bigger than I should be eating. I am fine with the no-bread service for the same reason as I view it as an invitation to fill up and over-eat, and actually find that no-bread is increasingly common in restaurants. But I understand that others have different views on this.
The wine list is well chosen with many bottles (primarily alsatian) that are not commonly on TO resto lists.
While I wouldn't view it as a destination restaurant, I think it is a solid bistro option if you are in the neighbourhood and wouldn't hesitate to go back.