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Bistro Toulouse

Homestyle olives with carrots and garlic are served

Homestyle olives with carrots and garlic are served to each table at Bistro Toulouse in Port Washington. (Feb. 26, 2009) Photo Credit: Kirsten Luce

May 2010

On occasion, you find a restaurant so friendly and accommodating, you forgive it the uneven food. A recent dinner at Bistro Toulouse was such an occasion. Three of us arrived on time for a 7 o'clock reservation and were advised that our table would be ready in five minutes. We were offered a seat at the bar and three little bowls: chunks of cheese, marinated olives and an empty one for pits. (It always amazes me when I’m offered olives and no pit bowl.)

While I nibbled, I surveyed the dining room: Sure enough, the four-tops (tables that seat four) were all taken, most likely by customers enjoying the $19.95 three-course prix-fixe, served from 5 to 6:30 p.m. Upon closer inspection, I noticed that there were a few empty two-tops and that quite a few of the four-tops were occupied by couples. What this signified to me was that the restaurant had seated the early-arriving money-saving couples at tables for four, a lovely and all-too-rare act of generosity.

As promised, we were shown to our table five minutes later and were served with a mixture of professionalism and warmth that, again, are the exception and not the rule.

I had a nicely seared duck breast, but its garnish was a weird, watery mélange of zucchini, pears and wild rice. It tasted like an unfortunate challenge from Food Network’s “Chopped.” One friend enjoyed the salmon en papillote, a fillet that had been steamed, in a parchment packet, along with potatoes, mushrooms and vegetables. A lovely presentation, but without the lemon-butter sauce, the salmon tasted like nothing.

Friend number two had steak frites, a well-cooked if tough piece of meat accompanied by a lively watercress salad and disappointing fries.

For dessert we picked at a pretty good chocolate mousse. Overall the food tasted as if it had been prepared by a well-supervised cook who had never set food in France or in a fine French restaurant. Certainly nothing called to mind the gutsy gastronomy of the bistro’s namesake, Toulouse.

I should note that most of the regular menu is available in the prix fixe, and for $19.95 I would definitely return to Bistro Toulouse early one evening.

 

May 2006 - On occasion, you find a restaurant so friendly and accommodating, you forgive it the uneven food. A recent dinner at Bistro Toulouse was such an occasion. Three of us arrived on time for a 7 o'clock reservation and were advised that our table would be ready in five minutes. We were offered a seat at the bar and three little bowls: chunks of cheese, marinated olives and an empty one for pits. (It always amazes me when I’m offered olives and no pit bowl.)

While I nibbled, I surveyed the dining room: Sure enough, the four-tops (tables that seat four) were all taken, most likely by customers enjoying the $19.95 three-course prix-fixe, served from 5 to 6:30 p.m. Upon closer inspection, I noticed that there were a few empty two-tops and that quite a few of the four-tops were occupied by couples. What this signified to me was that the restaurant had seated the early-arriving money-saving couples at tables for four, a lovely and all-too-rare act of generosity.

As promised, we were shown to our table five minutes later and were served with a mixture of professionalism and warmth that, again, are the exception and not the rule.

I had a nicely seared duck breast, but its garnish was a weird, watery mélange of zucchini, pears and wild rice. It tasted like an unfortunate challenge from Food Network’s “Chopped.” One friend enjoyed the salmon en papillote, a fillet that had been steamed, in a parchment packet, along with potatoes, mushrooms and vegetables. A lovely presentation, but without the lemon-butter sauce, the salmon tasted like nothing.

Friend number two had steak frites, a well-cooked if tough piece of meat accompanied by a lively watercress salad and disappointing fries.

For dessert we picked at a pretty good chocolate mousse. Overall the food tasted as if it had been prepared by a well-supervised cook who had never set food in France or in a fine French restaurant. Certainly nothing called to mind the gutsy gastronomy of the bistro’s namesake, Toulouse.

I should note that most of the regular menu is available in the prix fixe, and for $19.95 I would definitely return to Bistro Toulouse early one evening.

 

Keeping with what must be the newest tradition of southwest France, Bistro Toulouse makes linguine with white clam sauce.  Practicality and flexibility, two essentials in running a restaurant, are the cornerstones of this friendly new spot, where Maryland crab cakes are just as important as escargots and Nicoise salad is balanced by the ever-dependable Caesar.

If you're looking for cassoulet, the search doesn't end here.  But Bistro Toulouse is a hard-working establishment, and puts on the Gallic makeup. A print of Steinlein's classic 19th century poster for Le Chat Noir cabaret stands out, along with a smaller reproduction of the playfully grapey French Union by Robys Bar. Polished, dark wood frames the dining room.

So, use your imagination and order the respectable onion soup, under a lid of melted Swiss cheese. The butternut squash soup with nuggets of lobster also is good and autumnal.

Invoke the Riviera with that modest salade Nicoise. The goat cheese salad, with arugula, hazelnuts and plum tomatoes, stands out. And the version of a Waldorf salad is tasty, even though the blue-cheese dressing brings it closer to Buffalo than Astoria.

Escargots arrive buttery and lightly herbed in the requisite dimpled plate.  But they're not too plump. Those crab cakes could use more crab. The bistro's shrimp cocktail, with shellfish perched on a martini glass, amounts to a safety-first choice that gets its bite from a sauce sparked with lots of horseradish.

Bistro Toulouse's best main course is a generous, straightforward plate of juicy, roasted chicken breast, with mashed potatoes, French beans and a light jus with a hint of mushrooms. Duck a l'orange shows up crisp-skinned and moist, atop wild rice. The kitchen does, however, downplay the citrus.

Tender, flavorful pork loin reaches the table looking like two squat towers with diagonally-cut crowns. They're wrapped in bacon and served with a Calvados-poached apple, for a Norman accent.

A special pairing of pan-roasted lobster and monkfish, buttery and to the point, deserves a regular spot on the menu. Grilled salmon with dill sauce holds no surprises, but it's all right. Sole meuniere: overcooked.  Steak au poivre disappoints. The shell steak, ordered medium-rare, is overdone and chewy enough to constitute a dental test. Try the grilled hanger steak, with salad and fries, instead.

At lunch, omelets, quiche Lorraine, croque monsieur and croque madame sandwiches, and a trio of crepes expand the repertoire.

Sweets are few. The crepes suzette need more orange and a shot of Grand Marnier. The lush creme brulee improves things; a dry eclair doesn't.  Cupcake-size, molten-center chocolate cake stays true.

For the record, the linguine with clam sauce must be popular. At least once, Bistro Toulouse ran out of clams.

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