French Twist

You Can Still Count On Le Bistro For Innovative, Old World Charm

By Rebecca Cook

IN THE BUSTLING dining metropolis Tucson's become in recent years, attention tends to focus on whatever new restaurant opens its doors for business.

Naturally, we're interested in the latest bistro to hit the local scene. Occasionally, though, it's a fine thing to check out a place that's been around for years, to see how it's weathered the test of time.

Chow I remembered Le Bistro fondly, as a restaurant that consistently served innovative yet solid French cuisine along with decadent desserts that were just the thing for elegant, after-theater nibbling.

The interior, at least, remains pretty much unchanged. The bright light and garden sunroom ambiance are as delightful as ever. The only noticeable difference from previous visits is that the dense foliage along the side booths of the dining room has grown substantially, making the al fresco surroundings either more lush or more oppressive, depending on your point of view.

Although Le Bistro has a regular menu from which to order, the board of daily specials is the way to go. These are invariably so tempting that only the stalwart go on to the core text before making a selection.

A generous lunch special of pasta salad made with sun-dried tomato fettuccine, artichoke hearts, capers, carrots and tender, thinly sliced cured salmon was cool and refreshing, delicately enhanced by a light coating of tarragon vinaigrette. For those who've abandoned the ubiquitous pasta salad for becoming boring or predictable, this one may win you over with its flavorful originality. Accompanied by a basket of warm, yeasty French bread (absolutely divine with a thin veneer of butter), this was a lunch fit for royalty.

A warm angel hair pasta tossed with fresh bay scallops proved equally delicious. This entree's petite serving suited the richness of the scallops and the creamy, pungent goat cheese. Fresh green chilies contributed a pleasing, tangy contrast to these large, tender fruits de mer and the assertive character of the goat cheese.

Dessert is a matter of principle here. A prominent, cylindrical pastry case, filled top to bottom with all manner of confectionery indulgence, grabs your attention the minute you walk through Le Bistro's doors. If you didn't arrive with the intention of ordering dessert first, you might find your judgment swayed by this hypnotic, rotating display as you wait to be seated.

Le Bistro's tuxedo cake, made with a combination of white and dark chocolate, has moved into the realm of legend over the years. The dense, fudgy cake is pure heaven for chocolate connoisseurs. Along with a steaming cup of coffee, this treat will provide enough stimulation to keep you going for several hours. A mocha amaretto torte is less successful--a cloying sweetness eclipses the pastry's signature flavor.

Dimmed lights and an air of elegance accentuate the dinner experience at Le Bistro. Appropriately, the staff is more formal and the pace more relaxed, affording diners the luxury of settling in for an evening of pampered pleasure.

In a homey departure from haute cuisine, an appetizer of rolled tortilla with a piquant salsa-infused cream cheese is set before us as we contemplate the menu. Chef Laurent Reuxs' genius in crafting both the extensive regular menu and the nightly specials makes ordering difficult.

Finally, we settle on a pepper filet from the standard menu, and a horseradish-crusted halibut. Both dishes were superb: the tender beef filet cooked to medium-rare perfection, and subtly laced with a nip of black pepper, with a green peppercorn sauce drizzled over the whole. A sautéed vegetable melange of squash and peppers, and a lovely rendering of scalloped potatoes, beautifully complement both entrées.

Dessert this evening focused on a custard fruit tart and the Concorde, a miraculous concoction of chocolate mousse studded with fingers of chocolate meringue. The tart was satisfactory, but the Concorde's divine. Le Bistro definitely knows how to do chocolate.

Conclusion: Le Bistro continues to offer the same wonderful food and enjoyable ambiance we've come to expect. What a relief to find that in the midst of change, some of the finer things stay the same.

Le Bistro. 2574 N. Campbell Ave. 327-3086. Open 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Monday through Friday, with dinner served daily beginning at 5 p.m. Full bar. V, MC, AMEX, DR, checks. Lunch items: $2.25-$10.95; dinner $3.50-$17.95.


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