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By Laura Hahnefeld
By Laura Hahnefeld
An entree of crispy striped bass doesn't do it for me, either. It's simply a thin piece of dry fillet laid over haricot verts (green beans), tomatoes, capers, roasted red peppers, kalamata olives and potato rounds. It would be much better without the aggressive butter sauce it swims in.
Butter dominates sole meunière as well, cloaking the crisp-skinned fish's delicate flavors, swamping delectable fried capers and obscuring the excellent, crisp asparagus served alongside. Half as much sauce would have twice the effect.
The "less is more" approach works particularly well with Bistro 24's vichyssoise. The chilled potato and leek blend is mint-colored and practically tastes green, it's so fresh and clean under a dusting of whisker-thin deep-fried leeks. The crisp lahvosh chunks floating within are a pleasant surprise; much more so than the errant ice cube that surfaces on my spoon. Turn down the fridge, folks, and I'd eat this soup day in and day out.
2401 E. Camelback Road
Phoenix, AZ 85016
Region: East Phoenix
Scottish smoked salmon: $12.50
Duck confit: $11.50
Crispy striped bass: $22.50
Steak au poivre: $27.50
Herb lasagna: $19.50
Anjou pear tart: $8.50
Hours: Breakfast, daily, 6 to 11 a.m.; lunch, daily, 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.; bar menu, daily, 2:30 to 5:30 p.m.; dinner, Sunday through Thursday, 5:30 to 9:30 p.m., Friday and Saturday, 5:30 to 10:30 p.m.; Sunday brunch, 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.
French onion soup is about as traditional as any bistro can get, and the Ritz's take is achingly close to wonderful. I like the thick tangle of sweet onion and adore the tangy Swiss cheese-topped French bread. Yet why does the broth taste so sugary? Sacre bleu!
Bistro 24 doesn't miss any marks on duck confit, however. Who but the French would have thought to take duck, salt it, cook it and serve it in its own fat? The dish is not for dieters, swimming in calvados gastrique (a sauce of reduced brandy, vinegar and sugar) and topped with caramelized apples. It's more of a meal than a dinner appetizer (and, in fact, is served as a luncheon entree for $1 more), astounding me with a full thigh plus a hefty toss of spinach and red onion salad served in an almost life-size, duck-shaped bowl. It's rich, tasty and in perfect keeping with concept.
On the other hand, the tossed salad is much too delicate. Our waitress assures us it's an entree, but it's hardly filling, bringing a vacuous heap of bibb and arugula with a cowering sprinkle of cashews, blue cheese, hearts of palm and tasteless dots of what I'll agree with the menu might be artichoke bits. A lemon vinaigrette is so thin it evaporates on the plate, even as we request a separate serving to ladle on.
Bistro 24 is famous for its hamburgers, and usually, the accolades are justified. Not so on one luncheon visit, unfortunately. The requested-medium beef is bloody, and so greasy it leaves a ring on the plate under its sesame seed bun. Nothing's changed with the restaurant's napkin-wrapped French fries, thankfully -- they're still fabulously skinny, skin-on and scintillating.
Another survivor of the old regime is that bistro classic, steak au poivre. The huge fillet is perfectly done, tender, and topped with lots of whole green peppercorns plus thin, fried onion strings. A side of fries is perfect for soaking up the beefy juices.
When Chef Johnstone strays from the traditional, the result is much less successful. How herb lasagna got its name I'll never know, or how it's survived this long on the menu. This is a frankly weird dish, folding two pieces of very chewy pasta over whipped Jerusalem artichoke -- it tastes kind of like a tough, mashed potato-stuffed burrito. I actually like the filling, but hate the exceedingly strong Madeira-scented mushrooms served on top and in the salty puddle of brown sauce. The chef is new, and the emperor has no clothes, perhaps?
Meals end on a happier note, with a favorite Anjou pear tart and wonderful, strong French-press coffee. The tart's firm pear is lightly grilled, sliced and in nice textural contrast to a bed of marscapone cream and cake.
Johnstone plans to change his menu seasonally, I'm told. Hopefully his second go-round will bring us a better, brighter bistro once again.