My comfort food is French Bistro, so when I want to treat my palate and my sensibilities, I always head to my neighborhood favorite, but today I “cheated” with Madame Chou Chou because I was in Santa Monica and the thought of lunch on a patio tempted me to stray. The ambiance in the back of the restaurant with rustic and modern whimsical decor was delightful. Madame Chou Chou was also a perfect hostess, making every diner in this small bistro feel appreciated and welcome.

Details like the silverware added personality to the meal.

Since it was Dine LA week, they had a lunch special of three courses for $22, so I chose the Moroccan lentil salad, made with de puy lentils, orange slices, almonds and crispy duck prosciutto for my first course. It was a lovely presentation, but the dressing was a bit salty. Thankfully there were wonderful baguette slices to help balance out the flavor.

For my main course I chose the flank steak, served with roasted potatoes and haricots verts in a red wine shallot sauce. I ordered it “bleu”, very rare, but it came out medium. I wish I could say something good about anything on this plate, but I found everything on it bland and unappetizing. I ended up leaving more than half of my meal on my plate. Madame Chou noticed and she said that she did not want me to leave unhappy, so she asked if I would prefer another entree, telling me the pasta was made in house, so I agreed to try it.

The arrival of my substitute pappardelle carbonara, with English peas, bacon and egg yolk made me smile with anticipation. After mixing my egg yolk with the pasta, I took a bite and was relieved to find it was better than the flank steak. But even though the pasta was made in house, it was heavy, and pieces of it were clumped together (it was not stirred enough during cooking). The presentation was pretty, but the dish was just not well executed; the bacon was not crisp, the pasta was not cooked in salted water, and the peas were underdone. Even though they are an Asian fusion restaurant, Sawtelle Kitchen does a much better version of this classic Italian dish.

When Madame came by, she was happy to see me eat more of the pasta than I had eaten of the steak. I told her I did like the pasta better (omitting more detail than that). Madame is an excellent hostess and will do her best to make you happy, but I was not happy with anything the back of the house put on my plate.

For dessert, it seemed every table ordered the “deenie booh”, a gluten free almond cake with pistachio mousseline and raspberries. It was beautiful and since the place sells pastries, I hoped it would taste as good as it looked. I am happy to report that yes, this was the highlight of my lunch. The almond cake was richly flavored and dense, the mousseline was light and creamy, and the raspberries added a nice fresh tartness.

They serve wines by the glass, so suggested pairings are listed under every dish, and their dinner menu includes bone marrow, steak tartar, and foie gras. You might want to have a glass of wine with an appetizer on the gorgeous patio with a date.

Sometimes you must learn through experience, and I have learned that no matter how tempting and gracious a new French Bistro might be, I have found the one I love and I will not stray again!

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