Sunday, February 8, 2009

Bastille Day

As this is my first guest appearance on Tasting Serendipity, I’ll begin with a (very) brief self-introduction. I’m 28, married, live in Arlington, VA, and I have a serious and ongoing love affair with food. (That’s the simple version anyway. For a more complex life story, you can check me out at I have been fortunate to know Vince since we started law school together in 2004, and thus am equally lucky to call Carmen a friend. I am an avid home cook with a thing for kitchen gadgets, cookbooks and aprons, and the chance to check out a new restaurant makes me giddy.

Which brings me to this evening’s dinner.

Bret and I had dinner at Bastille, a 46-seat French bistro in Alexandria, VA. I should preface this whole review by saying that we were in Paris almost a year ago, and on that trip I developed a pretty heavy case of Francophilia. French food makes me particularly nostalgic for the week we spent touring Paris…or rather, Paris restaurants. So I have high hopes for restaurants that serve French fare and label themselves “bistro”.

Bastille is on a side street in Alexandria, just outside of Old Town and within view of the water. Much like some of the culinary highlights of Paris, it feels tucked away. The outside is quaint, with twinkling white lights and a door that faces a courtyard rather than the road. The inside is dark and cozy and dimly lit (in a romantic way). We were promptly shown to a table for two in front of the window, the host’s “favorite table.” In those first few moments, I was completely charmed…and then I heard the loud-talker at the table next to us. Don’t you just hate when you are out at a restaurant, maybe a long overdue date night with your significant other, and you can hardly carry on a conversation of your own because of a distractingly loud discussion a table over? But this is no fault of the restaurant, and outside the scope of a fair “review.”

Bastille has a prix fixe three-course Sunday “Family Dinner” menu. I ordered the Goat Cheese Cromesqui, the Parisian Bistro Steak (Medium Rare), and the Apple Tatin. Bret ordered the House-made Duck Charcuterie, the Parisian Bistro Steak (Rare), and the Pot de Crème.

Both First Courses were delicious. The duck confit served with the charcuterie was delectable. The bites combining tender duck meat, crispy skin and juicy fat were heavenly, and the only complaint was the small portion size. Bret enjoyed the cured duck meat, reminiscent of salami, but while the flavors melded well with the frisee and dressing, it was perhaps too gamey for some patrons. The pate was mild but had a very pleasant duck flavor and a light spread-like consistency. It worked well with the crisp toast and cranberry red wine reduction. I am normally a sucker for fried goat cheese, and I did enjoy this incarnation. If I have a complaint it was that the goat cheese was too heavily breaded, resulting in too hard of a shell that overpowered the mild taste of the cheese. That being said, the frisee, cranberry and walnut salad was very enjoyable, with the perfect amount of tangy-sweet Dijon cider vinaigrette.

While we normally try to order different entrees, the allure of steak frites was too great and we caved in to order two servings of the Parisian Bistro Steak. Now if the aim of Bastille was “Steak Frites,” they definitely missed the mark with the shallot red wine reduction. The reduction completely overwhelmed what was otherwise a perfectly tender cut of steak. Such a lovely cut of meat needs nothing more than simple salt-pepper-and-herb seasoning and butter to knock my socks off. That being said, the website specifically disclaims any categorization as “’old school’ classic French bistro,” and this diversion from a proven classic may be seen as an example of that disclaimer. All comparisons aside, however, Bret and I agreed that the shallot red wine sauce was overwhelming and our least favorite aspect of the meal itself. The fries were satisfactory. They were heavily salted – Bret goes as far to say “over-salted”—and were a bit too dark in color, whether they were fried for too long, in too hot of oil, or double-fried.

On to dessert! The Chocolate Pot de Crème was over-the-top delicious. Not for the faint of heart, the mousse was sinfully rich and topped with Chantilly crème and crispy chocolate shavings for a surprising mix of texture. The Apple Tatin gets a mixed review. The apple was tender and perfectly sweet, and the crème fraiche sabayon and caramel drizzle was a lovely complement. I personally found the crust of the tatin to be rather drab—a bit of rain on an otherwise happy dessert parade.

For those who enjoy a good wine with dinner, as we do, they have a pretty decent wine list. Although there are not as many offered by-the-glass as I would like, they do offer both 3 oz. and 6 oz. glasses and the most expensive is about $10. There are also a significant number of bottles for under $40. The oddity of their wine routine is that unless you buy a bottle, you get your wine- red or white- in an unsatisfactorily small and narrow glass. We had to ask specifically for the large cavernous glasses that are normally standard for big French reds.

A note on service—we found our waitress to be kind of a downer on our dining experience. I’d give her a “C.” She didn’t mess up, per se, but she was curt and impersonal, particularly given the “Sunday Family Dinner” theme.

All-in-all, it was a lovely evening. The atmosphere is perfect for a date night, especially if Little Miss Loud-Talker is on a different dining-out schedule. The presentation of the food was appetizing and there were several items on the menu that we look forward to trying on our next visit.

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