French connection

New owner, new space, same classic cuisine at Paris Bistro

Even when it occupied a less-than-attractive space in an odd strip mall anchored by a urology clinic, Paris Bistro was able to garner a loyal following thanks to a traditional approach to French cuisine and prices that were more than reasonable. Now that they've moved to tonier digs on Park Avenue (and ooh-la-la, it's a step up from the old space at Aloma and Forsyth), you'd think menu prices would reflect the neighborhood upgrade. Fortunately for all you budget-minded gourmands out there, prices here are still reasonable (most entrees are under $20) and the menu is still a roll call of bistro classics.

Previous owners Jean-Marie and Roselyne Marlot took great strides to alter the course of Gallic cuisine in Central Florida, placing the emphasis on the food instead of the frills. But with plush red velour banquettes, gilded mirrors and linen wallpaper, the bistro has been given a distinct Parisian makeover under the direction of current owner Tatiana Cerruto, and it works. The floor-to-ceiling windows looking out onto the courtyard lend an air of intimacy, sans congestion, while the dining room's acoustics keep the chatter to a respectable decibel level. But a lot of the chatter on this particular Saturday night came from the teeth of frigid patrons, many looking for a piping-hot bowl of French onion soup ($5.95) to warm their chops. A thin consistency and an odd essence of cloves gave the soup a bite that diminished its comforting qualities. The pâté du jour ($9.25), a chunky mix of duck and pork, also failed to arouse me. The wedges were largely flavorless and the addition of peppercorns didn't really add value.

Thankfully, mains were spot-on. There were plenty of options to leave us swooning, most notably the canard aux pêches ($19.95). Perfectly cooked slices of duck breast fanned out over a silken butter-peach sauce were remarkable, and the dish wasn't as rich as I feared it would be. The real fillers came on the side, in the form of potatoes au gratin and a quiche of broccoli and egg. The creamy mushroom-marsala sauce of the
ballotines de volaille ($16.95) ' succulent chicken breasts rolled with provolone and prosciutto ' offered the sort of requisite richness we've come to expect from French fare. The tureen of hearty beef burgundy ($17.95) was thoroughly satisfying, but only after my request to have a bit more broth added to the mix. Otherwise, it was just too dry. The carrots, mushrooms and potato were stewed wonderfully ' some pearl onions would've made it even better.

Two simple rules every French restaurant should abide by: Don't run out of butter, and don't run out of Grand Marnier. My guests and I were really looking forward to enjoying some crepes suzette ($9), but we were told the kitchen was out of Grand Marnier. Sacrebleu! So we opted for a tableside prep of bananas foster ($9) instead, and while our waiter's skills were ripe, the bananas were anything but. Profiteroles ($5.95) were fine, but didn't compare to the ones served up at the Best of British Pub. A simple, yet thoughtful selection of wines will please those with a penchant for Bordeaux reds and pinot noirs.

Of the three servers we had, none managed to check on our meals after they were served, and our water glasses sat empty until we spoke up. Such faux pas may have been easily forgiven at the old locale, but on this ritzy thoroughfare, they are magnified. Still, Paris Bistro is on the right track and, along with Café de France on the southern part of the strip, offers a noteworthy bookend for fine French bistro fare on Park Avenue.