Bistro Niko

I am spoiled. The guy I’m seeing used his dinner club coupon thingie to take me to Bistro Niko this week.

We arrived past the time our reservation was for – by about 10 minutes. A table was not ready for us, so after a quick trip to the loo, we hung out at the bar. It was a lovely evening with little humidity and reasonable temperatures that like a true French cafe the doors/windows were open to the patio/sidewalk.

Bistro Niko is touted as such a good replica of a French cafe that you may forget where you are and think you are in Paris. That is a bit of a stretch. Having been to Paris, France I can see how it imitates one, but it still has a hard shellac of Americanization. There were too many references crammed into the art work, there was plenty of room to walk around tables which were decadently large. The things that were most authentic were the ceiling and bathroom.

The lighting and decorative ceiling tiles reminded me of many cafes I ate at – be it in Paris, near Versailles, or in Normandy. The art deco layered tiles with a patina belying age was something that added a subtle flair. The bathroom, while larger than most French bathrooms, had dim lighting, tried to be arty, and while it had upscale touches (with a waterfall faucet) still felt bare bones and making do with what was available. It was clean, and clearly cleaned regularly as it had the trash taken out between when we arrived and my pit stop before we left three hours later.

The bar was crowded and an interesting crowd – between couples in their 20s not appropriately dressed for such a classy joint, business folk waiting out traffic or after a conference, and a number of more mature couples like ourselves in their late 30s to mid 50s. Truthfully, there were more people than I was comfortable with, as it was SRO for many folk and not much personal space. Not that I minded being so close to my date. 😉

After 45 minutes our table was ready, so we carried our drinks with us. I had a glass of Syrah, he a slightly dirty martini with extra blue cheese stuffed olives. My date wanted to make this a leisurely experience and was treating it as if we were at a Michelin three star restaurant. To be fair, it does have a Zagat rating in the mid 4s (out of 5.)

One of the wonderful things about our relationship is how we talk. And talk. And talk. We have so many interesting experiences and nearly diametrically opposed past, yet so much in common for where we are now and where we wish to be in the future. We get involved with our chatting, and as is stereotypical I can multitask and peruse the menu, he cannot. (Another comparison is how I prefer Android, he Apple products.) As such it took him forever for us to pick an appetizer (which I was ok with skipping).

I felt for our waiter, he tried going long periods before checking in if we were ready to order. He tried coming in short bursts. He was so polite and tried to blend into the background. Half the time my date didn’t even realize he was there, so I would indicate either if we were ready or not to the waiter trying to save him some effort.

In case one is randomly stopping by, I have a fish allergy. It’s a weird one. But due to this it significantly narrowed our options for an appetizer and my options for entrees. I also have a nut allergy that significantly limited my options for dessert.

While we waited on our appetizers, we were served a dish of shrimp in error. My date signaled to a waiter that it was not ours and they took it away. I’m not sure if we got someone else’s appetizer or if there was a mix up with our order.

We started with a ravioli of ricotta, artichoke hearts, and spinach in a sage butter. It was a bite of heaven. The pasta was perfectly cooked. The cheese was so fluffy, the flavors of the vegetables subtle but recognizable. The sage butter was like tinsel on a Christmas tree – that little bit that takes it to the next level.

My date praised the bread highly. It was good, a nice toothsome crust and velvety, chewy interior. But I think he praised it too highly since it was clearly freshly baked within the past few hours. Being fresh covers a plethora of sins. I fully admit to being a carboholic; I know my bread. 😛

Kudos to our server and his timing for removing our bread and appetizer plates as well as the serving wear for those items. It felt awkward though, in the manner he moved things to the side of the table, then piled them together reconfiguring what was on top in what must have been 20 steps. It was just 4 plates, a serving dish, and small platter for the bread. It shouldn’t have taken that much effort, even if it was elegantly done.

I feel like our waiter took our pacing too seriously, as there was more of a lull between finishing the appetizer and delivering our mains. I can’t blame him though based on how my date was savoring every moment and experience.

I posted pictures of my veal and my date’s scallops to my Instagram as they were so pretty. I didn’t realize how dim the lighting was in the restaurant until I went to post that pic later and how yellow it was. To be fair I didn’t use flash.

My date praised the scallops highly. My veal was melt in your mouth tender. The green beans perfectly cooked yet crisp. The demi glace was a bit too salty. The puree potatoes were watery and tasted like it was rehydrated flakes from a box with a slightly cardboardy after taste.

During the meal my date asked for a second martini. The waiter came back with a martini that was not dirty at all and had an orange peel in it. First he asked for the olives he was hoping for. He tried to drink it, but just couldn’t. He ended up asking for a redo, he was very polite but firm about it. He also had the skill to make it not about anyone and to not get anyone in trouble. His replacement was exactly what he wanted, and ended up being on the house to boot.

Dessert. Ah, dessert. My date fell in love with the idea of the banana ice cream sundae. I’m not sure if he just loves bananas or there was something else. Considering the speed it took him to decide (way faster than for appetizers or mains) there was something about it. He savored every last bite of the huge sundae.

Against my better judgement, I went with my date’s suggestion of ordering the creme brulee for dessert. I personally was debating between the chocolate flourless cake or the lemon tartine. He thought I could not get a better creme brulee unless I was in France itself. I countered with the fact I have had many a tasty creme brulee, though I never had one during my time in France. It was… underwhelming. The top did not look as if it had received much love from the blow torch, yet it did have a crack when tapped with the bowl of the spoon – but not a satisfying level of crack. The layer of caramelized sugar was very thin and left an aftertaste as if it had been burnt with that slightly charcoal smokiness that you wouldn’t have guessed from looking at it. The custard was bland, watery, and not very flavorful. My date was disappointed that his suggestion did not work out well.

As we chatted while my date slowly finished his dessert he looked up and indicated for me to turn around. At the table nearby were crowds of waiters taking pictures and video of another doing something pretty awesome that involved fire. We learned later it was a specialty Thai coffee called the Flaming Dragon Tongue that was a specialty of the waiter performing. It started with pealing an orange so that it is one long peel which is then slicked with grand marnier. Then another alcohol was poured from a spoon up high down the orange peel and lit on fire! After that step some cream and what looked like chocolate sauce were added to the glass, finished off with the coffee and a napkin wrapped around the glass to make it bearable to hold. It was really awesome to watch.

My date was tired and well sated from the good food, so he had trouble determining the tip. I was slightly disappointed that he only wanted to leave 20% (I would have tipped closer to 30 for the service we received and what my date put them through. :P) AND he tipped on the final bill, not taking into account the free drink or bill before the coupon.

We admired the art installation by Michael Stipe while waiting on his vehicle from valet. It was still a perfect and romantic evening. I couldn’t have asked for a better experience.