Olmos Park Bistro has replaced the late (but not much lamented) Valentino’s semi-Italian theme with something more aggressively French — in both accent and cuisine, and denizens of the high-net-worth neighborhood are responding in their dine-out best. It may take more than charmingly French tableside manner to keep them coming back.
Not that there’s anything wrong with French-accented charm. In fact, the notion of a mini-French ghetto in the ’hood up to now held down by Bistro Vatel and Bistro Bakery is immensely intriguing (more like annoying to Damien Watel, however), and it still remains to be seen how much French will pervade Eric Abrams’ Tangeré in the old Shiraz location. In fact, let’s hope that the competition for local bragging rights tightens up the food at OPB; first indications were that the kitchen isn’t ready for prime time.
A couple of quite different appetizers were problematic in quite different ways. Manila clams steamed with chorizo featured rubbery clams, even more resilient sausage, and not enough broth for the requisite sopping — though said broth was savory enough. An Alsatian tart filled a crust with very caramelized onions and topped that with wedges of unmelted brie to very odd effect. And, if you consider steak tartare an appetizer (it can go either way), it may come to you in need of a jolt of Viagra to regain its virility; it just seemed limp.
Lack of focus (and salt) marred a hearts of palm salad — which is the essence of old-school anyway. Old-school would have been enthusiastically welcomed in an evening’s special entrecôte (hanger steak) with a red wine shallot sauce if the steak hadn’t reprised the clams’ chewiness; the sauce was brilliant and a reminder of how good the classics can be. A lamb shank tagine, served in the traditional conical container, looked promising but disappointed with mushy textures and muddy flavors.
Yet there are bright spots. Service apparently got up to speed more quickly than the kitchen. Oysters (Bluepoints and Malpeques at last look) are inexpensive. And if a Belgian chocolate fondant (think flourless chocolate cake) is any indication, the chef can do desserts; it was sublimely silky and lushly chocolatey.
The wine list hadn’t yet appeared a month after the opening and for that we can blame our own, perverse bureaucracy. But it’s now firmly in place and, with offerings ranging from $30 to $125 (not counting Dom Perignon), it is, while not especially innovative, certainly up to the job. We especially like the availability of 15 oz. pichets of vin ordinaire — very much in the manner of true French bistros.