Bistro on the Boulevard

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It is the latest foray of Bobby and Donna Albanese, who are also the owners of Piola Italian Restaurant and Garden. I guess I was expecting a mostly Mediterranean menu since that is what they have proven themselves to be so adept at for years. But this menu can only be described as eclectic. Most dishes feature unique flavor combinations from France, Italy and Spain — many with a slightly Texas twist. They are not only refreshingly different, but also well executed.

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Here are a few examples of what I mean by eclectic: Baked Salmon Paillard over French lentils with champagne glaze for $19 (singularly French), Catfish Sandwich on a Kaiser roll, lightly fried with a spicy slaw and fries for $11 (simply Southern), or Farfalle Pasta with grilled chicken, a light pesto cream sauce and walnuts for $14 (strictly Mediterranean). As you can see, it’s tough to pigeonhole this bistro.

Our appetizer of Savory Beignets served with feta cheese, olives and a side of honey ($8) was an inventive mix of flavors. Traditional beignets are of course a New Orleans’ classic and usually made from a pâte à choux dough. This version was denser and more biscuit-like than the Café Du Monde variety, served without a dusting of powdered sugar. They were golden brown and intended for dipping in honey instead and were a fun snack along with salty black olives and long slices of fresh feta cheese. This was a classy start to the meal, enjoyed alongside a glass of wine, and it was a pretty presentation as well.

While Red Door occupies a space in a nondescript strip center across Overton Ridge Boulevard from Bed Bath & Beyond, the space is well-planned and comfortable inside. Simple cream striped curtains shade you from the setting sun.

The modern feeling is layered with concrete flooring, cream-colored leather banquettes running down the main wall with ebony-colored chairs and tables. A frosted glass half-wall screens your view of the small kitchen. Drum shades wrapped in ivory linen hang overhead as well as a few mustard-colored glass pendants. Classical details like heavy moldings and sandy-toned walls, an entry table, and the namesake red door complete the space.

I would suggest the Crepes stuffed with black beans, shredded chicken, picante, and poblano cream sauce ($14). This was not a huge portion, yet filling. Two airy crepes with cilantro mixed into the batter were filled with ingredients often found in enchiladas and draped with a simple cream sauce. The recipe was flavorful, but the plating could have used a punch of color. I couldn’t taste the poblano in the sauce, but we enjoyed the mild dish.

We also sampled one of the nightly specials. A delicate Lemon Sole ($24) was lightly floured and pan-fried. The stacked presentation was expertly prepared atop creamy vegetable risotto, featuring carrot and zucchini, with micro greens for garnish. The plate was enhanced with a spoonful of sweet, aged balsamic vinegar on one side and a lemon buerre blanc sauce on the other.
For dessert, the unique Lemoncello Lady Finger Cake ($6) is the perfect ending. This house specialty is a light layering of tender lady fingers and a creamy (not-too-sweet, nor too tart) lemon filling. It is decorated with powdered sugar and a lemon twist.

If you are in the neighborhood around lunchtime, stop in for soup and salad in style. The Tomato Florentine soup ($7) with pasta and vegetables, or the Potato and Artichoke Cream ($7) are menu staples. Salads range from the simple like the Arugula Salad ($8) with citrus dressing, walnuts and Parmigiano shavings, to the extravagant like the Mixed Green Salad ($12) with grilled chicken, tomatoes, sultanas, blue cheese crumbles, and apples with a strawberry vinaigrette.

In the area surrounding Hulen Mall, which is dominated by chain restaurants and fast-food formats, opening a neighborhood bistro was a calculated risk. With so much traffic and competition in the area, it could be easily overlooked. But fans of the Albaneses are making the drive down Hulen to enjoy their newest offering. We were impressed by the creative variety, well-trained staff and relaxing atmosphere.