Not so fresh French cuisine

Alexandra Brell

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Bistro Provence's sea bass entree, though artfully presented, left the palate wanting more. Photo Credit: Alexandra Brell / Staff Reporter

In a strip mall off the 134 highway, nestled between a nail salon and a dry cleaner, is Bistro Provence, a quaint restaurant that claims to specialize in the foods from the French Provence region.

I have never been to the south of France, but I am confident the food does not taste like what is served at Bistro. If so, the French must be starving.

I invited a friend to have dinner with me; we both were looking forward to the experience. I ate lightly that day in anticipation of a pre-meditated pig-out; I was ready.
When we arrived to the warm and inviting restaurant, we were the only two patrons. There was no need for the reservation I made earlier that day (In all fairness, it was in the middle of the horrific storms Los Angeles experienced a few weeks ago).

The menu was a three-course, prix fixe (French for “fixed price” for a multi-course meal. This is common in Europe as well as at stateside European establishments).

We began with two appetizers. The first seemed full of promise: mushroom ravioli with shrimp, spinach, leeks and porcini sauce. The ravioli was not bad and the sauce had a decent flavor at first, but it was thick and heavy. As it cooled, it became gelatinous. The two small shrimp the dish included were tough and did not have a lot of flavor.

The second appetizer left me speechless: Roasted beet Napoleon with herbed goat cheese, toasted almond, yellow frisée. I’m a big vegetable fan. I love all of them; especially roasted, root vegetables. I adore cheese; can’t live without it. Unfortunately, I can live without ever eating this particular salad again.

The presentation was odd: three dark burgundy beet slices, layered with pink goat cheese with yellow frisse tossed around the plate. The beets may have been from a can; they were not fleshy like a roasted vegetable.

The goat cheese was mixed with beet juice, giving it the unappetizing pink hue. The consistency was that of light whipped cream cheese and with much less flavor. Goat cheese, in its original state, is not whipped nor pink, but white and crumbly, yet malleable. This didn’t fit the bill.

My friend chose the bouillabaisse- scallops, sea bass, clams, shrimp, and mussels in a lobster broth. This wasn’t the best I had ever tasted but certainly wasn’t the worst. The broth was flavorful and the scallops were surprisingly tender. It looked good on arrival and tasted OK.

Per the waiter’s suggestion, I ordered the  sea bass roulade, crab, burnoise vegetable, fennel, zucchini and orange sauce (“I eat it, like, four times a week,” he said). When he brought it to the table, I was thrilled. It looked great: two large portions of fish with a big pile of steaming vegetables. The bass appeared to have been sauteed as the outside was golden.

I took one bite and was not thrilled. Hoping that my taste buds were being uncooperative, I tried it again. The bass was rubbery and didn’t seem fresh. The lobster, or maybe it was the crab, had a fishy taste to it and could have been from a can as well.

When I asked the waiter if the sea bass was fresh, he said it could not be more than “two or three days old.” Fish is best when it is only a day, maybe two days old. This is what history has taught me.

In addition, it was saltier than movie theater popcorn, beyond salty.

I sent it back and the waiter kindly removed the charge from our bill. It was then that he came clean and said that the assistant chef was at the helm that evening. Truly, it may as well have been the bartender cooking blindfolded.

My friend and I laughed at our poor misfortune and thought that salvation may come with dessert. No such luck. The chocolate cake couldn’t even pass for a tasty store-bought version and the crème brûlée was flavorless.

There is a bright spot. If a person is willing to pay $32.50 for nicely toasted, chewy, crusty bread with butter, this is the place. No reservation needed.