claudia kwan for metro vancouver
1961 W. 4th (and Maple)
Open Tuesday – Sunday for dinner, weekend brunch 11:30 a.m. – 2:30 p.m.
Dinner for two, including tax, tip and drinks: $125
**** (out of 5)
If your idea of French cuisine tends toward fussy and over-priced, a visit to Bistrot Bistro is required. The recent addition to W. 4th means Kits now has the same access to down-home French food that Gastown enjoys with Jules Bistro (reviewed May 4, 2007).
On a recent Sunday night, we venture forth reservation-less, and the vivid lime green room is hopping, even at 9 o’clock. Co-owner Valerie Devin is on hostess duty, and after a quick gander around the room, ably manages to slot us into a table for two near the front window. Phew!
Bistrot’s appetizers, or “premiere assiettes,” to use the menu lingo, are amazing — wonderful variety, simple yet stylish presentation, and great value for money with the top item at $12. The simultaneously fluffy and crispy pastry of the smoked duck tart is the perfect foundation for the thinly sliced duck to meld with mild and sweet caramelized onions. Steak tartare isn’t the raw ground beef you might be visualizing from a Mr. Bean skit. Instead, it’s a small hill of lightly cooked chopped steak that’s been punched up with Dijon mustard. In no time flat both have been devoured.
The mains are less successful. The broth in my fisherman’s stew pot is too heavily spiked with citrus and star anise to be enjoyable, while being a little skimpy on the seafood. The steak in peppercorn sauce is flavourful, but the texture isn’t what I was expecting — if I had wanted stew I would have ordered the boeuf bourguignon. Vegetable accompaniments are ordered separately, with cauliflower gratin and gratin dauphinois (layers of scalloped potato and cheese) arriving piping hot in small casserole dishes.
There’s just enough room for some so-so creme brulee and wickedly delicious chocolate mousse, brought to the table in a big serving bowl and scooped right in front of you.
Service is delightful and knowledgeable, although it tails off as it gets later into the evening, but overall we’re replete with good food and good company, and that’s what a bistro should be all about.