At the Table: Garden Bistro 24 offers a (very good) taste of France

A bistro is a small restaurant, usually serving modest, down-to-earth food and wine. Add a commitmen

Garden Bistro 24

WHERE: 1839 Central Ave., Colonie. 456-4566,

WHEN: 10:30 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. Monday to Saturday

HOW MUCH: $76.80 including tax and tip.

MORE INFO: Reservations recommended for dinner Thursday to Saturday. Children’s menu. Credit cards: MasterCard, Visa, American Express, Discover, Diners Club. Wheelchair accessible.

A bistro is a small restaurant, usually serving modest, down-to-earth food and wine. Add a commitment to seasonally motivated fare using locally sourced ingredients, and you get Garden Bistro 24. It’s the best inexpensive French-style restaurant in the Capital Region, hands down. It captures the bistro spirit as well as it can in a strip mall on Central Avenue.

But it’s a new, tidy strip mall with fresh landscaping, and Garden Bistro has made the dining room feel warm using wood floors and a mustard and paprika palette. The atmosphere is casually elegant and comfortable. Their small patio on the side of the restaurant suffers from acute suburbia, which is more about parking lots than sidewalk cafes. But I give them credit for trying.

Basic approach

The menu is simple: a few appetizers, a handful of entrees, and specials that change every two weeks. The salads are inspired combinations of flavors, and the mussels, steak frites and sauces are beloved French standards. Desserts are made in-house. More on those later.

I don’t want to sell you on its prices, although I could, but on its great French-style food. My dinner brought me right back to Cafe de Paris in Geneva, where husband Eric and I enjoyed its set menu of steak entrecote served with a scandalous amount of herb butter, a mountain of excellent frites on the side.

Virginia started with a beautiful salad of fluffy mesclun greens tossed with fresh grapes, dried cherries, toasted walnuts, apples, avocado, and bleu cheese ($9). She chose the maple-mustard dressing, which the server agreed was her favorite, too. “It goes nicely with the fruit,” she advised. Great salad, said Virginia.

A small cup of soup is only $3, and the day’s offering was beef with vegetable. It was served simply in a graceful white bowl, and I enjoyed the slow-cooked meat and fresh carrots and tomatoes. A twist of freshly ground sea salt made it even better.

“You don’t find many places that serve crepes,” Virginia observed when she scanned the menu. The crepe special ($17.50) featured chunks of pink salmon and roasted red peppers folded into an outsized crepe covered in bechamel, a simple white sauce. Excellent, she said.

Choosing steak

I’ve heard that anyone can cook a steak, which is why I don’t order it when I’m doing a review. Instead, I choose food that takes some doing to put together: a saltimbocca preparation over a Parmesan one, homemade desserts over procured ones. But this was a special case.

Absent the rude waiter, the steak frites meal at Garden Bistro was very much like what I’d had at Cafe de Paris, right down to the mountain of slender fries and way-too-much herb butter. It was prepared a perfect medium rare. Hanger steak ($16) is a large-grained, flavorful cut that is modestly marbled with fat. The other steak on the menu is a flatiron ($16); both are in the French spirit. They are flavorful like entrecote and similar in texture.

The fries were slim, browned, seasoned with sea salt, and there were a lot of them. They had backbone and crunch, and poked out of their pile every which way. The few bites of the steak assured me it was medium rare and and tasty, and I left most of it for the next day. The fries, I finished. The hunk of fresh herb butter on my steak melted and seeped under the pile of fries. A new dress in a certain size hangs in my closet to wear next week, and here I am scarfing french fries soaked in butter. This is why you should go to Garden Bistro.

A handful of appealing fresh greens dressed in something sweet added color and some nutrition to the plate, and they were outstanding. It was my idea of a perfect entree.

Memorable desserts

Virginia chose the crepe Martin for dessert ($6.50), filled with strawberries and slices of banana, toasted coconut and walnuts. Hazelnut chocolate and whipped cream turned it from breakfast into dessert. It came neatly folded, dusted with powdered sugar.

The whipped cream could be dessert on its own, but it made the chocolate mousse ($5.50) beneath denser, richer, and chocolaty by contrast. Here, I could and did stop at a spoonful, and I took the rest home. The desserts are on display in a refrigerated case near the door; be sure to examine the offerings before you sit down for dinner.

You won’t find white tablecloths here, but servers in jeans and long aprons, attractive prices, and a comfortable, relaxing atmosphere. Garden Bistro 24 isn’t trying to be fancy, just very good, and it is. The little bit of France sets it apart from and above other casual restaurants in the Capital Region.

Categories: Food, Life and Arts

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