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.
Bistro Toulouse is at 43 Main Str., Port Washington, 516-708-1852.
Gratis olives at Bistro Toulouse. Photo by Kirsten Luce