Bleu Bohème 4090 Adams Ave. Kensington619-255-4167www.bleuboheme.com
There's an old Latin saying: “It is well to remember that there are five reasons for drinking: the arrival of a friend, one's present or future thirst, the excellence of the wine or any other reason.” Words to live by, and a sentiment I share with some excellent friends with whom I've had two dinners at Kensington's Bleu Bohème.
I need to start by confiding that I didn't pay for my own meals there—not because the restaurant hooked me up (for the sake of a review's integrity, I'm definitely not down with any of that monkey business). But, I did have gratis dinners due to the generosity of these folks, whom I first met on wine trip to Mexico and since have become cherished cohorts in vino. And while I'd like to think these treats bestowed upon me didn't color my experience at the restaurant, they may have. Though I personally noticed a few missteps, my well-traveled and trusted hosts thought enough of the place to plan two celebrations there.
The restaurant should consider it high praise that Di, a true blue Frenchman, is such a fan that he and his wife had a holiday dinner there for nearly 20 friends and family, in a room off the front dining area that houses a long wooden table for large parties. I was one of the lucky ducks gathered for a three-course dinner ordered off an abridged version of Bleu Bohème's regular menu. The menu is made up mostly of French foods that have become familiar America standards—bistro classics like coq au vin and boeuf bourguignon, for instance.
I started with the escargot, nicely herb-and-garlic-heavy. I also tasted the French onion soup, which seemed a bit too sweet, as if sugar had been added to the pot to augment (or maybe accelerate?) the caramelizing. Next was a green peppercorn-sauced steak, still good and pink inside, with tender yet crisp green beans and a stack of skinny pommes frites. If a French bistro doesn't do great fries, you might as well get up and leave, but I stayed put—these were just fine.
Almost everyone had brought a bottle of wine, and though I was a bad dinner guest and neglected to bring my own, all were happy to share, and we drank and joked across and around the table. I sampled my neighbor's wild-mushroom-stuffed pasta, which she enjoyed, though I prefer the versions at Tapenade, Cavaillon and Avenue 5.
To finish, I chose the warm apple tart, with thin slices of the fruit baked on a sheet of equally delicate puff pastry. This is one of my at-home ringer desserts, something crazy-easy to make that looks way more impressive than the effort expended. The housemade chocolate mousse, rich and smooth, is also a crowd-pleaser.
A month later, a few of us were back at Bleu Bohème for Di's birthday dinner, hosted by a thoughtful mutual friend. This time, I made sure to bring a good bottle of wine, one that I'd carried back from Guilliams, a tiny, idyllic, family-run winery near Napa Valley, where I'd sipped wine outside the barn with the owner while she yelled down the field to her husband—who was digging on a tractor in the vineyard—to come on back home for dinner. It had tasted amazing then, maybe due to the setting, but when we opened it at the table, it was still as nice as I remembered.
We shared the sampler appetizer, which arrived on a plank of wood almost the size of our table, laden with a handful each of French cheeses, patés, assorted charcuterie and their accompaniments. It was disappointing to hear that none of the meats had been made in-house, but the plate was tasty enough to snack on through the wines.
The mussels, which come baked with breadcrumbs, butter and garlic, or steamed with a choice of sauces, including saffron cream or blue cheese cream, are pretty enjoyable, though the baked ones seemed to have dried out during their time in the oven. My boeuf bourguignon, served in a terracotta dish, was in a comfortingly flavored sauce of bacon, root vegetables and red wine, and I liked the bites I had of a friend's clay-pot chicken, simmered in a mushroom and mustard cream sauce.
We toasted to our warm-hearted birthday pal, to the many meals and bottles we've shared and to the pretty good food that can be elevated by pleasant company.