My wife and I ate dinner on Saturday night at Bistro Asiatique in Bethesda. Considering the prices, this was one of the worst meals we've have in ages. There is a somewhat happy ending, so read on...
Situated on the premises of the former Fairmont Grill on Fairmont Avenue, Bistro Asiatique follows in the footsteps of many a doomed eatery. Many consider this space to be jinxed, and Bistro Asiatique promises to keep that string alive. The owner has renovated the large space nicely, dividing it into manageable dining areas, using some interesting Asian-influenced room dividers, art, and architectural elements to make a pleasant-enough space in which to dine. This is an Asian-French "fusion" restaurant, with one chef of each persuasion in the kitchen. Two chefs in the kitchen is usually a recipe for disaster. Sure enough, it is one.
A bus boy arrived with a basket of bread and honey-sweetened butter that was almost comical - the bread looked like someone had sat on it. It probably was crushed into fat, flabby pieces when they sliced it. Fortunately, it was fresh and tasted OK, and kept us busy while waiting for our food.
We ordered a glass of wine each (one shiraz, one bordeaux) shortly after being seated. After one waiter stopped by with two glasses of white wine ("who is having the chardonnay?"), we finally got the correct wines after about 15 minutes. We perused the menu which looked interesting, but somewhat expensive for a suburban restaurant. Appetizers were in the $8-$14 range, and entrees were mostly around $22-$27. The "market priced" lobster fricassee was not available, so I couldn't determine its price. We placed our order for "warm foie gras custard" as an appetizer to share, followed by "duck magret with broccoli mousse" for my wife and "Crab Asiatique" for me. The crab dish was a combination of a crab cake and a soft-shell crab, which sounded interesting.
The appetizer arrived after a longer-than-acceptable wait. Our waiter, who I believe is also either the manager or maitre-d', finally walked past our table saying "what, no foie gras yet?", ran to the kitchen and returned with our food. What we got was completely different from the dish described on the menu. It was a slice of a terrine of foie gras, and a skimpy slice at that. It was accompanied by some slices of mango and grapefruit on one side, and a salad of a sliced green vegetable, possibly green beans, on the other. The foie had an "off" flavor and a crumbly rather than silky texture, probably from overcooking. But, what happened to the warm foie gras custard? When the waiter asked if we enjoyed it, we inquired as to why they substituted the dish without telling us. He responded rather vaguely about how the French chef does whatever he wants and doesn't communicate with the rest of the staff. He also promised to take the $14 off the bill. On to the entrees...
Our dishes arrived after a reasonable interval. Perhaps the kitchen was getting its act together. No such luck. I could tell my $27 "Crab Asiatique" was going to be a disaster from the minute it was placed in front of me. The soft-shell (it might have been two small ones, but who could tell?) was basically a pile of soggy crustacean pieces that had been artlessly thrown on my dish. The crab cake was at least 50% tasteless, dry filler. There was a garnish of some mixed Asian-style vegetables which were under-salted and basicaly just crunchy with no flavor, and a mound of green-colored rice that had been pressed into a ramekin and turned out onto the dish. The rice was dry and flavorless, the green color a mystery ingredient that added no discernable flavor.
My wife's duck was cooked as ordered - medium. It was a breast that looked like it had been sliced by a 5-year old into about 8 uneven slices that had been unappetizingly piled in the center of the plate. The garnishes on her plate were identical to the ones on the crab dish. What happened to the promising-sounding broccoli mousse? MIA. The duck itself was actualy the highlight of the meal. It tasted fine, and had a simple reduction for a sauce. Of course, for me, medium is overcooked for duck, but my wife was happy.
We ate what we could of this food, leaving at least half of everything on the dish. The waiter/manager/maitre d' arrived and asked how we enjoyed our meals. We politely told him exactly what was wrong with the food - soggy soft-shells, dry crab cakes, missing broccoli, etc. He again apologized for the kitchen's mistakes.
We declined the offer for free desserts, not wanting to put ourselves through any more of the confused kitchen's gaffes (after all, Ben and Jerry's is right up the street). Thank goodness we're not professional food critics, who would hve been forced to sample as much of this menu as possible.
Sometime after we had our plates removed, the owner stopped by our table and apologized for the slow service, saying that two of their waiters didn't show up work. Actually, the service was the least of the place's problems, and he didn't seem to be aware of the problems we had with the food.
A check arrived, with the $14 foie gras still on it - $84 total. We flagged the owner down and told him we had been told the foie would be taken off the bill. "Of course, no problem" he replied, and took the check. The waiter came back with the revised check, which had JUST THE WINE on it! He had decided to comp the whole dinner! This was an unexpected act of kindness which we really did appreciate. He also came back with two coupons worth 20% off our next dinners there. He was truly apologetic and looked embarrassed and humiliated by the incompetent kitchen. We were truly moved by his sincerity and kindness. Of course, there is no chance we'll ever use those coupons, but maybe with a good attitude and some adjustments in the kitchen, Bistro Asiatique has a chance. Let's see, was that a pig I just saw flying by?