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Restaurants & Bars 4

Bistro Elán Revisited

Melanie Wong | Apr 13, 200301:57 AM

Piling on the current French bistro theme, here’s an update for a chowhound favorite.

On January 31, the eve of Chinese New Year, after some back and forth on where to meet, we finally settled on Bistro Elan in Palo Alto for dinner. Not a typical choice for this special day, but one that would still allow me to honor the tradition of a rich and luxurious meal for an auspicious start of the new year.

A Kir Royale for him, a glass of Billecart-Salmon Brut Cuvee Reservee for me, put us in a celebratory mood as we studied the menus, and helped ourselves to the basket of breads and Normandy butter. The apricot-studded loaf was especially good. The house baker never lets us down.

The absence of the lobster appetizer from the menu was a deep disappointment – I’d had this dish in mind when I decided on the restaurant. Our server tried to console me with an enticing description of the dilled prawns appetizer, which my dining companion jumped on. I smiled at him and said, “you’ve left me no choice”. “Yes, it’s true”, he quipped, “you’re stuck with the foie gras”, which I resigned myself to happily.

The seared foie gras fulfilled my desire for an extravagantly rich morsel on this night and then some. The brioche toast under it was especially good, light and eggy. The soft-textured fresh prawns with a creamy dill sauce were molded into a round. My friend pronounced it very Swedish, and he knows what he’s talking about having worked in Stockholm recently. We both thought it was delicious.

Then I took a wrong turn with a fusion-y selection, grouper in green curry sauce, not following my own advice (link below). I was attracted by grouper, one of my favorite fishes and not often seen on menus in these parts, plus the promise of the crisped skin. But the sauce was insipid and too sweet, and the fish was overdone.

“Too bad your fish is overcooked. This duck is f’cking good”, he grinned, and slid a taste of confit and crème fraiche risotto onto my plate. He was absolutely right, and the mature Pinot Noir aromas and flavors of the 1991 Ballot-Millot Pommard 1er cru “Pezerolles” I’d brought wrapped around the meltingly tender duck beautifully. The silky layer of crème fraiche on the firm rice grains made it glide through the mouth and we wondered how we could reproduce this at home.

The good thing about not eating much of my entrée was that we could order two desserts, instead of one to share, without guilt. Good thing, because I could hardly keep from wrinkling up my nose at his choice, a date cake, which I would not have been able to compromise on. But once again, his uncanny sense for smoking out the strengths on a menu prevailed, and it was unbelievably good. An individually molded cake, very moist and almost pudding-like encasing fresh dates, rested in a pool of deep dark caramel studded with juicy surprises. What were these surprise bits? I puzzled over the small batons trying to figure out what they could be made of. Tender on first bite, leading to a crisp core, juicy and tangy, yet sweet too. They turned out to be caramelized apple, partially cooked to bring out the richer stewed flavors yet retain their fresh snap, and added the lighter element to balance the bass notes of the date cake. My own choice was good, but not nearly as memorable. At this date, I can only recall that it had a lovely milk chocolate ganache filling. The accolades that Bistro Elan’s pastry chef has received are well deserved.

For two aperitifs, three courses each, and corkage for one bottle, the bill was around $175, inclusive. I’m not sure where this place fits in “edk’s” definition of bistro vs. brasserie vs. restaurant. The rich and detailed dishes edge into the restaurant category, and the prices do too. Yet, the casual, read that noisy and crowded, ambience is more bistro-like. On our Friday night, when people were packed in waiting for tables, it got really loud at times. For this price point, I think I want a little more comfort and peace. But I’ll be back, the food can be exceptional here, plus I still need to try the lavender hand cream in the ladies room.


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