The Bistro

Bistro Blast

Hail and hearty: The Bistro chefs are game to give patrons generous portions.

Glen Ellen restaurant puts the din back in dinner

By Paula Harris

TGIF? NATURALLY, but you can express your gratitude for the impending weekend in a couple of ways. Some Fridays you’re raring to hit the town and kick up your heels in search of the nearest raucous shindig. Other times, you can barely drag your mentally fried, physically fatigued carcass through the office door to punch out–even a take-out meal at the day’s end seems too much trouble.

A relaxing dinner in a cozy, tranquil restaurant is your desire. You imagine dreamily unwinding from the torturous work week amid glowing candles and mellow cocktail music, with a sympathetic dinner companion across the table. A fortifying glass of merlot, a plate of energy-replenishing red meat, and a silently efficient bus person with a an engaging smile and a crumb comb to clean up the tablecloth completes the picture.

One recent Friday we went in search of such a culinary comfort zone. The Bistro in Glen Ellen sure looked the part: warm polished wood floor, mottled lemon walls, exposed wood-beamed ceilings, a view of mature trees and a creekside dining area, a corner fireplace, and amber glass lamps casting a soft honey glow over the whole scene. Glorious.

Now if we just had some earplugs!

The Bistro, the latest in a string of restaurants to open in Glen Ellen’s Jack London Lodge, was buzzing this Friday evening. In fact, the decibel level was uncomfortable. Had we known, we would have opted to change our reservations to sit outside in the more peaceful garden area. Still, we decided to make the best of it.

The Bistro’s menu is a mixed bag. It includes Italian, French, Japanese, Thai, and Mexican influences, plus such rotating old-time American blue-plate specials as roast prime rib of beef, buttermilk fried chicken, and Yankee pot roast.

WE WERE EAGER to perk up our exhausted spirits with something rich and hunky, and the wild boar chili appetizer ($4.95) certainly did the trick. A generous extra-deep bowl was filled to the brim with sweet, smoky, spicy meat that had the same tender-flaky consistency as pork ribs. It was topped with cheddar cheese, dollops of sour cream, and chives and was accompanied by a big spongy square of homemade cornbread. Appetizer? This dish was more like a meal and a half.

That said, the butter lettuce salad ($7.95) seemed very overpriced. The average-tasting salad featured pecan-crusted Sonoma goat cheese, dried figs, and orange slices, and was coated with lemongrass vinaigrette. The flavors didn’t harmonize, the lettuce tasted bland, and the goat cheese got lost among the flavors.

The duck liver and merlot-soaked cherry paté with crispy sage cracker bread ($5.95) was far more pleasing. The paté was a smooth, rosy mouthful and came with local bitter greens, snipped chives, little squares of diced red pepper and red onion, and a few capers. We would have preferred warm plain crusty toast to the chiplike accompaniment (obviously not the promised sage cracker bread) that resembled fried wanton.

We enjoyed the roasted vegetable tower ($12.95), which featured layered portobello mushrooms, eggplant, zucchini, red pepper, and couscous, but we hated the accompanying saffron pea sauce, which was too salty.

The chef’s roast tenderloin of beef ($17.95) was hearty fare. The meat was rare, pink, and tender and came with lumpy mashed potatoes infused with truffle oil, and charred ‘n’ chubby asparagus spears.

We ended the heavy meal with tart dried-cherry brioche pudding ($4.95) with butterscotch ice cream and butterscotch sauce. The cherries livened up an otherwise bland, stodgy pudding, although the ice cream tasted light and lovely.

A classic, though undistinguished, crême brûlée ($4.50) featured a wafer cookie, fresh raspberries, and a thick, brittle sugar crust.

The restaurant has a modest wine list with several offerings by the glass. Since it was out of our first choice, a Benziger Imagery Series 1996 petit sirah, we chose the Cline syrah 1997 ($25), which needed some time to open up and lose its initial acidity.

By the end of the meal, the din was so bad we’d given up on any dinner conversation and sat in kind of red meat/red wine/noise­induced stupor. A midsized party celebrating grandma’s birthday nearby had turned the atmosphere into an out-and-out shriek fest, and we knew it was time to leave.

On the way out, we asked a waiter about the extreme noise. He told us that soundproofing may eventually be installed to improve acoustics. We say, the sooner the better.

The Bistro 13740 Arnold Drive Glen Ellen 996-4401 Hours: Lunch, Monday-Saturday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Sunday brunch, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; dinner, Sunday-Thursday, 5 to 10 p.m., and Friday-Saturday, 5 to 11 p.m. Food: Eclectic, including American “old-time favorites” Service: Rushed and a bit frantic one minute, slow the next Ambiance: Loud indoors, more peaceful outdoors Price: Moderate to expensive Wine list: Modest, with several wines by the glass Overall: ** (out of 4 stars)

From the September 16-23, 1999 issue of the Sonoma County Independent.

© Metro Publishing Inc.

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