Garden Bistro 24 – November 2011 (dt)
6.68 – 7.25, 7.2, 7, 7, 7, 6.5, 6, 5.5

The Sum of the Parts

The food part is easy. The menu is a bunch shorter than many places – two appetizers, several salads, half-dozen entrées, several desserts (most of which seemed to be crepes), and then cast in several specials. Still, most of us found an entrée we wanted:

·   the Savory Crepe special (Deb K, excellent, chicken & asparagus & thyme & herbs, a good choice for her)
·  
the Beef a la Burgundy special (Don, not fancy but satisfying comfort food, a beef stew flavored with the obligatory red wine, peas, carrots, did I say satisfying?)
·  
the Mussels special with the tomato sauce, pearl onions and basil, a stack of nearly 40! (Deb T: excellent, she’s been waiting for mussels this good since last time here; Chay: good although mussels are more of an appetizer idea for him)
·  
the regular Mussels item, another stack of 40 but with a choice of  sauces: (Judy: excellent, white wine & shallot sauce, fresh mussels)
·  
the flatiron steak: (Kriss, with the herbed butter topping, very good; Ken, caramelized onions, sent onions back to be cooked more, very good otherwise; Tim very good, with red wine jus)

               All but the crepes came with frites, in the classic paper-lined wire basket, crunchy outside, mealy inside – done to perfection. A plate hosting four ramekins of sauce–two ketchup types, two honey-mustard types–invited dipping. The one exception was Judy, who ordered a side of asparagus with scallions, which seemed like a good idea to others once it arrived (frites were excellent but more potato than one or two wanted).
               The appetizers and salads are a la carte.

·   the split pea and ham soup special attracted three (more if you count the sharers): Don, Ken, and Tim: all thought very good although one of the soup-ers wished for more salt and warmer temperature; a very competent creamy mix with dices of ham
·  
side salad, attractively priced: Deb (Caesar), Kriss (Caesar), Judy (garlic vinaigrette), all competent
·  
the spinach salad – full version (Chay and Deb K shared: two smaller separate bowls; greens, strawberries, almonds, sliced mushrooms, bacon, and goat cheese; very good.

               A few of us wanted bread, especially with soup and salad, but it wasn’t forthcoming. We asked, and a plate of crusty sliced bread promptly appeared.
               The desserts list, although short, attracted most of us.

·   upside-down pineapple cake: (Ken, good)
·  
chocolate mousse – small bowl with a dollop of cream: (Deb K, Kriss: both very good, comparison with Mt View Brasserie)
·  
spiced pumpkin and blueberry crepe special: (Judy, excellent, just right sweetness & texture)
·  
the regular berry crepe: (Don, good, and a worthwhile change from chocolate)
·  
crème brûlée: (Deb, satisfying)


               Finishing the dessert round, Tim sipped his Frangelica, and Chay his white Sambuca, while Ken savored another cup of coffee.
              
The service part matched food quality. ‘Keri’ was smooth, knowledgeable, helpful, attentive, quick without being hasty, maintained a pleasant style, accommodating of our pickiness & quirkiness & laughter. Thanks, Keri, for excellent service, that was casually comfortable, competent, without pretension. Water glasses were promptly brought out, and extra glass bottles delivered as needed. Ken’s coffee mug was filled promptly and often.
              
Extra staff delivered all dishes in a cluster, instead of the prolonged state we occasionally see elsewhere, and plates and bowls were whisked away when done, creating space at a cozy but almost tight table.
               Ambiance is spare, comfortably casual, spacious yet closed in. The entryway splashes face-front the pastry counter for perusal; a brief stroll around a chest-high divider (topped with five two-foot-long philodendron holders) escorted us to the 40’x30’ room, filled with about twenty marble-topped, linen-less tables. Two high tables sat at the room’s rear. A round, metallic, six inch, rimmed centerpiece held packets of sugar, salt and pepper shakers (used otherwise, later), a cocktail list, and a yellow milk-glass candle, lit. A heavyweight paper napkin was wrapped around a single fork, with other utensils appearing as needed, or as asked for.
               The antiseptic white soundproof tiles of the ceiling are outdone by the busy-ness of the rest of the room, with a ten-seat bar posing just past the pastry shelves; a ten foot tall, six feet wide divider separated visual contact with the kitchen entrance; an almost room-width set of front-wall windows toned down by blinds; several smaller windows head-high on the west wall; paintings, murals, mirrors breaking the expansive sand-coffee monotone walls.
               Lighting was effected with nine six-unit track lights in the fifteen foot high ceiling, with five hang-down oblong globe lights above the bar. Chairs were sturdy wood, with wide seating, comfortable for most of the night. The waitstaff uniformly wore white shirts, with dark ties showing under the dark-red full-length aprons. The background music, nearly soft, almost loud, resounded with the bistro effect of Harry Connick Jr soundalike and some French-ish female voice.
               The wine list, as spare as the food menu, was distinctively arrayed, with red wines and the accompanying bottle labels lining the front, with whites on the back. Quite notable was the relatively small markups, much less than most places, with $13-$17 bottles marked up to $25-$30. Winemeister Tim ordered, first, the evening special – Mara 2008 Syrage Lot 7 – followed shortly by the Domaine de L’Harmas 2008 Cotes du Rhone, both worthy choices from an interesting wine selection. A glass of pinot grigio, a gin & tonic, and two sodas filled the order. The finer-than-usual glassware was a plus for the wine drinkers.
               Prices seemed quite reasonable although the final bill totaled smack dab in the middle of our usual range. Entrées clustered in the upper teens, the house salad only $3.50, although full salads were nearly ten. And the a la carte situation brought the final tab, including tax, tip, and drinks to $100 per couple, a bit larger than the separate prices might initially indicate.
               And somehow, almost intangibly, GB24 meshed so well with DP8’s mood that everything seemed better, matching a feel-good glow of company and camaraderie. (Keri was a key ingredient in that mix!)
               Short menu, good food, good service, reasonable prices, spare but casual ambience, Central Avenue clutter – all somehow melded into an harmoniously enjoyable evening.

The evening had started at the Adamses’ abode, three weeks since our last event. With Eastern Standard Time’s onset, a 5:15 meeting time is already dusk, or beyond, but the weather has been pleasant, making the nearly leafless season just beyond the reach of winter, despite our pre-Halloween snow.
               Tim showed the RV in the side yard to those who had not seen it yet, with Ken threatening to drive off, sometime. Buddy ran around excitedly to re-visit his usual favorite friends.
               Judy had prepared a counter-full of appetizers expansive enough to be dinner, almost. Dishes of guacamole, hummus, and roasted peppers awaited placement on any of the three cracker types, while a chunk of cheese, grapes, a bowl of mini-carrots and celery chunks, and another dish of pizza bites accompanied.
               Tim’s drink supply included beer for Chay, white zin for Chris, a remarkable display of wine types – a Chateau Bizard Cotes du Rhone, a Taverna Winery Super Tuscan, a Viticultors Loxarel brut cava, and a Marimar Russian River Chardonay. Wow!
               We caught up on news for an hour there, on the ride to and from GB24, and of course, during the meal. Topics included RV plans for the Adamses’ winter, Kalli, our kids and grandkids (everyone good, for now, which is all we can hope for), Monteverds’ trend-breaking Thanksgiving plans, the rest of our Thanksgiving plans, the upcoming DP8 Christmas at Karnes, Christmas shopping, Chay’s trip to Toronto, school, two upcoming retirements, and more.
               The aforementioned salt & pepper shakers shared triple duty – first as shakers, of course; second, ... and, lastly, a... ....
               A request for ice cream ....
               The ride northward, as it approached its target, revealed the Teators accusing the Adamses of stealing their next pick – coincidence! And as Edmund Ingalls used to write in the Greenville Local: “A good time was had by all.”