FRENCH PROVINCIAL

Most of all, I savored the cheese plate. Citrus Caf‚ serves a hearty platter of five cheeses, including expensive morbier and Gorgonzola, accompanied by sliced apple and grapes. It cost twice as much as the other desserts, but was ample for two people. Since it's almost impossible to find a cheese course except at the Valley's priciest restaurants, I have no trouble justifying another trip out here.

Citrus Caf‚ runs the happy but dangerous risk of becoming a victim of its own success. The long wait, despite reservations, tested our patience, service crossed the line between unhurried and slow, and the kitchen ran out of some dishes we wished to try. Let's hope management can keep up with the cooking.

Location Info

Map

Citrus Cafe

2330 N. Alma School Road
Chandler, AZ 85224-2489

Category: Restaurant > Coffeehouse

Region: Chandler

32nd Street Bistro, 3160 East Camelback, Phoenix, 956-4494. Hours: Lunch, Monday through Saturday, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.; Dinner, Monday through Saturday, 5 to 10 p.m.

Management has had a lot more practice at 32nd Street Bistro. That's because this relatively new place has the same ownership as the Borgata-based bistro Mes Amis.

Despite the inevitable, storefront-parking-lot view, the room has a cozy, sedate feel. Clever murals are painted to suggest crumbling walls, with gaps revealing scenes of Roman ruins in southern France and geometric shapes that hint at Roman mosaics.

This place makes a happy first impression, thanks to a terrific breadbasket filled with small, round loaves of warm, chewy country bread. And the appetizers did little to readjust our attitude. Escargots come heaped in a garlic cream sauce, alongside a small piece of puff pastry bobbing like a buoy. At $4.95, this dish provides more snails per dollar than anyplace I know in the Valley.

Roasted red pepper and feta cheese is another good way to glide into dinner. Pepper and cheese are covered with a zesty pesto sauce, and the assortment of flavors works well. A slightly larger portion and another loaf of bread and I might have been ready to call it a night.

Coquilles Saint-Tropez is the most intriguing appetizer. Three glorious grilled scallops, meaty and moist, are nestled in a pungent tomato caper sauce. Perhaps the mild scallops and powerful sauce might have been better off with different partners, I thought, but I was still undecided by the time I cleaned off my plate.

Stick to the soup when you order your entrees. This evening's white bean came in a tasty, understated, tomato-vegetable broth. The house salad, by contrast, featured undistinguished greens sprinkled with a flavorless, grated cheese that lacked the distinctive bite of real Parmesan.

By far the best entree we sampled was swordfish. Usually prepared as a slab, the fish here came as a thick, fist-size hunk, like filet mignon. Beautifully grilled, it floated on a puddle of sharp ginger sauce surrounded by sweet, caramelized red onions. While good fish, like a beautiful woman, seldom requires adornment, this exercise in lily gilding worked.

Magret de canard, a typical bistro dish, features sliced, boneless breast of duck. 32nd Street Bistro prepares a routine version with a generous portion of fowl.

The kitchen's equally profligate with veal. Escalope de veau au calvados didn't stint on the plateful of thin, tender slices. But no one could detect even a hint of calvados, a high-octane apple brandy from Normandy that's hard to sneak by.

On this night, unimaginative chunks of roasted potato and appealing slices of grilled eggplant and squash accompanied all the main dishes.

No one would ever guess, spooning into 32nd Street Bistro's sweets, that French desserts excite global enthusiasm. The ones we tasted were dull. Cräme caramel was nothing to swoon over--a pedestrian effort. The lackluster napoleon could have come from a cafeteria display. The alluring pear tart was particularly disappointing, all crust with only traces of pear and almond paste.

32nd Street Bistro has a lot going for it: It's a comfortable spot with smooth, French-accented service and some really first-rate dishes. I'm just waiting for it to pull all of its fare up to that level.

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