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Speaking of restaurants that are unexpectedly situated:
The wonderful Bistro du Soleil sits on a small street that spins off from the busy intersection of Culver Boulevard and Vista del Mar in Playa del Rey. A gazillion cars go barreling by just a few feet from the restaurant's front door, most of the drivers of which never notice that there's a bistro perched on the edge of the turn.
But there it is, a small bit of Provence a short stroll from the Pacific. And it's a fine bit of Provence at that.
Bistro du Soleil has that look that places near the water tend to get, weathered as it is by salt and wind. Once you park (not hard in the small lot, or on the adjacent street), it's a haven in which a small staff, and a loyal clientele all seem to know each other. At a nearby table, a lively chat was going on about who makes the best hamburger in the area. Everyone had an opinion, the waiter included.
If you show up for lunch, you can slide comfortably into a suitably rich French onion soup, or perhaps a black bean soup flavored with lime and sour cream, that would seem to be more Mexican than French.
Salads abound at lunch, as well they should — a first-rate Cobb; a Del Rey salad that combines chicken, ham, turkey and mushrooms; a rustic Nicoise; a snappy goat cheese salad; and more.
There are a plethora of sandwiches, as well, for lunch, including a burger topped with brie, a Cobb sandwich (the salad twixt bread) and a very snappy roast lamb sandwich. Though I'm not mad for melted brie on a burger (I prefer a Swiss or perhaps Monterey Jack), it's a very good burger. And the brie does give it a French panache.
The menu at dinner is mostly French, with a lot of California eclecticism, manifested in smaller dishes such as the French-Mexican brie quesadilla, an order of fish 'n' chips that's mostly British, and the various very Italian pastas (angel hair with salmon, linguine with various seafood, pasta primavera, linguine Alfredo).
A halibut taco sits on the menu next to a chicken crepe, which in turn is next to the hamburger. California cuisine sure is a big tent.
The larger dishes, though, are pretty much French through and through. There's both a chicken Grenobloise (lemon and caper sauce) and a chicken Dijonaise (mustard cream sauce).
There's steak au poivre (one of my favorite dishes, topped with lots of roughly cracked black peppercorns, which wreak havoc on the bridgework), and there's marchand du vin (filet mignon in a Burgundy wine sauce). Duck comes in a black currant sauce, while halibut is flavored with orange and lemon.
The desserts, if anything, are even more French — tarte tatin, crepes Suzette, crepes Martinique, chocolate mousse.
And I would be remiss not to mention that the brunch and breakfast menus are very tempting, with seven Benedicts, croissant French toast, and a whole bunch o' crepes. They offer a cheese plate for dessert at brunch. How very civilized!
Merrill Shindler talks about restaurants from 5 to 7 p.m. Saturday and Sunday on KLSX-FM 97.1.
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