Sunday, June 12, 2005

Café Bizou. No thank you.

Multiple people, whose food opinions I trust implicitly, have recommended Café Bizou in Santa Monica as a midpriced, delicious, French bistro restaurant, perfect for all kinds of occasions. It even gets number one billing in Zagats as the most popular restaurant in Los Angeles, sharing space with other such gems as Joe's, JiRaffe, and Lucques (and Cheesecake Factory and Baja Fresh, which probably should have tipped me off). Their website is cute enough, and their menu fit the needs of the people I would be dining with, so we decided to try it on Friday night.

On their site it said that the Santa Monica location had changed management recently, but that the staff and menu remained the same. Figuring that the staff (does this include kitchen staff?) and menu were the key to the restaurant, I figured how different could it be? Unfortunately, the answer is very different, at least compared to the recommendations I'd received.

Our first problem was finding it. Tucked away in the ground floor of a giant cement office structure, we drove by once without even so much as seeing a sign for it. After circling the block, we finally spotted it, and then once more around we managed to find the parking entrance. Fortunately, the expensive garage below validates for the restaurant for three hours, so that was nice, although they don't have any signs telling you that, so you have to ask and cause a bit of a stir at the parking entrance and exit. But everyone was accomodating of my bad driving etiquette, so it was okay.

Once inside, we started at the bar, and there I have nothing to complain about, except the atmosphere. It felt like a hotel bar, with older couples from out of town visiting and having drinks. It was pleasant enough, and the cosmopolitan I had was actually very well done, citrusy and sweet, without tasting like cough medicine, and it came in a cute little chilled glass thingy (exact name unknown, same as the thingies at Bar Marmont) so I could pour as much or as little of my drink in the precarious martini glass and not spill a drop if that's what I prefered.

Soon, they readied our table, and we were escorted into the main dining room. It was festive and big, with every table filled, but the tables were well-spaced so we didn't feel crowded. Our waiter was friendly, cordial, and reasonably attentive. He took our orders, drinks and all, and after a few minutes, our $1 salads arrived. That's a nice touch, actually. With every entree you can add a soup or salad to your meal for only a buck. It was a simple Romaine lettuce salad with diced tomato, but the dressing was good, a mustardy vinagrette, and I was satisfied. Then came the entrees.

I ordered the roast chicken breast with mashed potatoes because I was craving comfort food that night, and I figured a French bistro would be the perfect place to get a juicy bit of chicken with some buttery mashed taters. I was wrong. The chicken was bland beyond belief, it was almost flavorless actually, except for that "tastes like chicken" flavor that lends itself to so many other foods. It was also tough and dry, two words I loathe to use because they depress me when talking about food. The balsamic sauce that came with should have perked it up, but alas, it was wholly underwhelming and equally bland. I marvel at how one can achieve a bland balsamic reduction, but I now have proof that it's possible. My mashed potatoes had a bit of a crust, probably from being put into a hot oven to kiln fire the dish before plating the chicken, but the crust had no color, no crunchy brown flavor, so it just seemed like it had been sitting out for a while, which I assume it had. Waiters often tell you to beware of the hot plate, but this time they weren't kidding, and I kept my fingers away from the plate that felt like it had been to hell and back. I ate my meal, drank my second cosmo, and chatted with my friends, all while a running commentary streamed through my head about how the food could be so bad, when the friends who recommended it have such good taste.

When we were finished, we finally flagged down our waiter, who was probably chatting in the back because the place had nearly cleared out, and he delivered our check. Actually it was the check from the table next to us, so we had to wait until a different server took it back to our waiter since he had disappeared again. It seems the other folks had paid our bill, but since theirs had been more expensive, I insisted that we pay for ours. We did, leaving a decent tip because we are nice people, and we left.

I can think of twenty other places in LA that serve delicious food at similar prices, so I know that I won't revisit Café Bizou again. In fact, knowing that I would have enjoyed my meal a lot better had I eaten at Cheesecake Factory says a lot, because I so dislike patronizing the chain restaurants, when there are so many little places worth trying. Maybe it's the Sherman Oaks location that is deserving of praise. Too bad I didn't start there.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I browsed your blog, hoping to find out what you'd been doing since I haven't seen you in a while.......and then to my horror, I discover you'd gone to Cafe Bizou! Oh Julie. If only you'd consulted with me first. I would have steered you clear of the $1 salad ruse. Le Marmiton on Montana has prices cheaper than Bizou and actual mean french waiters to fetch you real pate and ratatouille omelettes. For great fun, good times, and good lookin's, try Beechwood in Venice/Marina Del Rey.

6/13/2005 8:59 PM  
Blogger Max said...

You had an abnormal experience. It is worth going to the one in the valley (yea, though I drive the 405 of death I shall fear no SUV) to find out what you missed in the Santa Monica location.

I'd also tell them about your horrible experience, since it's critiques by customers that force a place to make changes.

6/30/2005 3:23 PM  

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