I arrive at Le Bistro by Liz before my friend, Sarah. After a short wait---it's busy---I am seated in the atrium, bright even in the dimming grey sky. A server drops by menus and a wine list, and then stops by once more with a bottle of chilled water.
There is an "It's a Small World" feel to the restaurant decor; I feel more like an extra in Lady and the Tramp than I feel transported to France. Gingham tablecloths, trees with fairy lights, striped awnings and runny candles jammed into wine bottles add up to the equivalent of a high school play about romance.
When Sarah arrives, she orders a glass of pinot grigio ($8), while I mull over my choices. I ask after their pate as an appetizer---our server doesn't think it's made in-house, but goes to ask. She returns to tell me they have run out. We instead choose the escargots a la bistro ($9.95) and a half-order of potato skins ($3.95), a house specialty. I also decide on a glass of merlot ($8).
The escargot dish is good, but disappoints compared to the traditional Burgundy preparation of garlic, butter and parsley. The mix of mushroom, onion and roasted red pepper overwhelms the snails and undermines the novelty of having them on the menu. That said, they are tender, not chewy, and tart pops of goat cheese bring a nice roundness to the flavour of the dish.
The potato skins are fine---no better or worse than your average pub.
For our entrees, we select some takes on classic bistro fare: boeuf bourguignon ($15.95) and poulet Moritz ($14.95).
The chicken is a nicely browned breast stuffed with brie and topped with a little hash of ham and sage. It sits perched on an island of carrot and potato that stands in a pool of rich buttery sauce. It's a pretty plate, the muted earthy tones punctuated with bright orange spears. The chicken is well-cooked and flavourful, and the brie is just a nice bit of creaminess that doesn't overwhelm the simple, buttery dish.
The beef bourguignon is a huge disappointment next to the pretty poulet. It is visually unappetizing.
The flavour, however, is not bad. The use of tenderloin is a bit of a question mark---a less flavourful cut of beef than, say, a shoulder cut, here it is overcooked and stringy, with a shredded infirmity that makes what should be a hearty dish feel insubstantial. The stringy texture and lack of incorporation of solid vegetables---ribbons of mushy onion and mushroom and a smashed potato underneath give a samey mouthfeel---make it seem more like a ragu than a ragout.
Once again, I wish this had been a little more traditional, closer to the school of Escoffier or Child, perhaps with pearl onions, carrot and chunks of potato integrated into the stew. It's very easy to imagine a better version of the meal.
We look for salvation in dessert, an espresso, chocolate and toasted coconut cheesecake ($6.50)---not made in-house---and the famous lemon parfait pie ($6.50). The cheesecake is good. Not too rich, but delicious. The idea of the lemon pie is better than the reality. The flavour is great, but the middle layer of lemon curd is crystallized.
I don't hold any romantic nostalgia for the old iteration of Le Bistro: the phrase "I went there on a date once in high school," is the most common remembrance amongst my peers. As I leave after this dinner, I can't help but think "This would be a great place to go on a high school date." So by my books, Le Bistro by Liz is living up to the legend.