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May 11, 2014 01:54 PM

Bistro de la Gare, Round 2

My second visit and Mrs. O's first in several years was last night, Saturday, and glad we'd made reservations because the joint was jumpin'. This made a great first impression on her because of what was lacking: the kind of racket we used to be deafened by before the makeover. What we got was the hum and chatter of happy conversation over some barely audible French-café kind of music. The indicated table, though, was set beside an unused glass door left open to the breeze, which did not please her (chilly out, you see), so there was a slight delay while they got it closed.

Our waiter tonight was a tall, casually cheerful Frenchman who, after discovering Mrs. O's fluency in his language, addressed his conversation solely to her, if not necessarily his attention. While he was discussing the evening's choices, she took the opportunity to ask for water, and as he was about to leave us she asked again, specifying tap water. When he returned to ask if we were ready to order, we pointed out our glasses and he apologized and fetched us a (refilled) bottle.

She being a bubbly fan ordered a glass of crèmant, while I asked for the Sancerre and some escargot. Bread arrived, tapenade was taken back and butter brought (Land O'Lakes wrapped pats this time), bread rather stale and much less of it than on my last visit. When the snails showed up, though, so did much more and fresher bread.

The waiter asked if we were to share the escargot, but Mrs. O explained that she is vegetarian. So after I'd had my way with the snails and their delicious sauce and he returned to take our entrée orders, when she requested the wild mushroom spaghettini, he told her it came with shrimp, but that they could be omitted. (She told me later he'd regained a few points for that!) The specials were all a bit pricier than I was ready for, so I ordered the larger of the steak-frites versions, NY strip with fries and a dinner salad, and a glass of côtes du Rhone. Mrs. O asked for another glass of the crèmant.

The entrées arrived well after my glass of red, but the glass across the table was still empty. As the waiter picked it up, apologizing again, the woman who'd waited on me so efficiently before set a full glass on the table without comment and walked away …

The wild mushroom pasta was much more al dente than we like it, actually showing some uncooked center in the strands I tasted, but the sauce and mushrooms would have been good on shoelaces. The fries were as before, clearly done twice and perfect. My steak was cooked to the rare side of medium-rare as requested, sliced and set on more of that fine, rich wine reduction, with no hint of any artificial flavor "enhancers." The salad bowl was a truncated cone of black plastic the size of a generous soup cup, with baby greens I'd swear were freshly picked and a very light tangy and vaguely sweet dressing. It was a perfectly satisfactory plate, but the steak itself lacked brilliance; it was more tender than the filet I'd had before, and surprisingly less flavorful. And although the salad greens were perfect, flawless, I missed the interest I'd found in that small pile on my previous plate, dressed a bit more heavily and with a good bit of cilantro in the mix.

For all this grousing, we agreed that we'd found – or re-found – another new favorite place. I sincerely hope that they can expand the menu a bit, and perhaps their wine list as well. Our waiter's inattentiveness was notable only because of the tightly attentive attitude of everyone else on the floor, and would pass unnoticed at most other places in town.

The Marquis crèmant was $9 per glass, the Sancerre $13.50, the Côtes du Rhone (which was excellent!) $8.50. Escargot $13, Pasta $25, my NY Strip $29. Total with tax and tip was $138.62, and worth it.

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  1. Very nice review, as is typical for you. Only thing missing is a link to their website -- very helpful, including a very detailed menu with prices:

    1 Reply
    1. re: nosh

      Thank you for doing that; I didn't because the menu I saw on the site the day I visited, a few weeks ago, had earlier versions of some dishes (the chicken dish was half a chicken, not a breast) and earlier, somewhat lower prices. I'm delighted to see they're being better than the former owners about updating their online stuff!

      By the way, in the dining-room picture on the home page, the two-top by the glass door was our table. Lovely at dusk with the roses blooming right by your elbow.

    2. Are the escargot in the shell or in one of those crocks with the holes?

      Points for a place that is dependable for cooking a steak to order.
      Really nice write up.

      10 Replies
      1. re: jessejames

        Crock plate with holes. Papa would have been outraged (any departure from late-Forties Parisian practice was blasphemy to him), but I like'em that way. Makes it easy to start mopping up sauce with bread while waiting for them to cool down a tad.

        Next time I get the filet I'll ask for the same amount of rare. I got medium-rare last time and by the last several bites it had overcooked. Yes, this level of precision is to be treasured. Now we need to work on the pasta …

            1. re: mc michael

              Garlic, butter and a bit of pastis. Mrs. O hates pastis but tasted some sauce on bread anyway, and said it was undetectable … which surprised me a bit, because I love pastis and found an echo of it in there. Or that could be my imagination. Anyway, they brought me plenty of bread, and once again asked twice before removing the snail dish.

              @ jessejames: Damn near. Perfect would have been an onglet instead of the NY strip. Even a ribeye, which is what the previous owner offered. And in my dreams, they're offering duck confit, Lapin à la Moutarde, roast chicken …

              1. re: Will Owen

                I dream of pate de foie gras and toast points....have you found a California street legal substitute for that?

                1. re: jessejames

                  I have a jar my niece-in-law brought me from France, but it's probably gone too long without being opened. She's a darling woman and beginning her residency in veterinary medicine … I've noticed many vets, even those with beloved pets, take a much less sentimental view of animals than most of us do. I knew an old country vet with both small- and large-animal practices, the latter on his farm. In deer season he'd use his operating setup to butcher them, and brusquely dismiss any "poor Bambi" crap from anyone.

                  1. re: Will Owen

                    Nice anecdote. Is there a non foie pate that packs the flavor. That mason jar full was the reason to go to Bouchon.

                    1. re: jessejames

                      Well, you CAN drive to Vegas and go to Bouchon there, and they do have that Mason jar thing.

                      1. re: Jack Flash

                        good point jack. it's a nice excess that fits in well with LV.

                        keeping the dice out of my hands for 2 hours == priceless.

          1. Mi madre went there this weekend - said she had some of the best moules frites she had ever eaten (from a woman who spends 2 weeks in Paris every year).

            1. Fantastic review - so glad they did something about the noise level - it was ridiculous! Can't wait to check it out and devour their delicious escargot!