Aug. 16 2013 03:45 PM

Parisian bistro puts French accents on the staff and on the plates

fareforweb
Au Revoir’s moules marini?re
Photo by Michael A. Gardiner

Hillcrest's Au Revoir Bistro looks every bit the French Bistro. From the window trimmings painted in white to the large chalkboard with daily specials (sometimes written in French sans translation), there's a distinctly Parisian look and feel to the place. It's cozy and quaint, and the French accents among the servers reinforce the impression. 

But the term "bistro" connotes more than just a look. It refers to small neighborhood restaurants serving a repertoire of simple, classic French dishes such as moules marinière, escargots de Bourgogne, onion soup, coq au vin and steak frites. Bistros are not exactly known for the creativity of their menus, but rather for consistent, quality execution of that menu. When you walk into a bistro, you know what you're going to get, and you know you'll get what you expect. And that's where Au Revoir (420 Robinson Ave.) doesn't always get it right.

On one visit, the moules marinière—mussels in white wine—were absolutely perfect. The balance between the acidity of the wine and the richness of the butter was spot on. The herbs and aromatics framed the sweetness of the mussels, and a squeeze of lemon elevated the whole affair. French bread and that heady broth were clearly meant for each other. This was bistro fare at its finest.

The story was similar for the salade Niçoise, the classic composed salad featuring lettuce, tomatoes, green beans, tuna, hard-cooked eggs and Niçoise olives, all tied together with a vinaigrette. Chef René Herbeck's "innovation" was the substitution of seared fresh tuna for the more customary canned stuff. It was hardly new and not necessarily traditional but absolutely delicious.

Not all of Au Revoir's dishes were so successful. The steak frites was under seasoned, which was particularly unfortunate because the beautiful string fries sitting next to it were dreadfully over salted. The only thing thoroughly edible on the plate was the perfectly dressed arugula salad. The story was similar with the escargots de Bourgogne. The snails themselves were in want of seasoning, as was the otherwise classic sauce of butter, herbs, shallots and garlic. Curiously, they were topped with little rounds of puff pastry which—aside from the questionable fat-on-fat choice—meant that they barred the delivery path for the squeezes of lemon that were so badly needed by the snails. 

Perhaps the dish that most perfectly summed up my experiences at Au Revoir was the wild-mushroom raviolis with sautéed spinach and fresh herb beurre blanc. On one trip, the dish was sheer perfection, a wonderful connection to Au Revoir's sister restaurant just up the block, Arrivederci ("goodbye" in French and Italian, respectively). On two other visits, the dish was not quite as good. Once, the sauce was so thick that it weighed down the whole plate; on another outing, the herbs took over the sauce and threw the entire dish out of balance. 

The overall grade for Au Revoir is "I" for "inconsistent." At its best, the restaurant offers good French food at a very attractive price. Unfortunately, its best does not always make it to the plate. 


Write to michaelg@sdcitybeat.com and editor@sdcitybeat.com. Michael blogs at www.sdfoodtravel.com You can follow him on twitter at @MAGARDINER

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