Due to our last experience there, we went to Nicole’s Bistro with this song on our minds.
We went on July 14 for their Bastille Day prix fixe menu (Vive la France!). The last time we went to Nicole’s Bistro, it was a minor disappointment (see 1st link above). When the bill adds up to $75/head for the evening, it quickly becomes a big disappointment. We chalked it up to an off-night for them and figured it wouldn’t happen again.
Years ago, Nicole’s Bistro was infallible in our eyes. They just seemed to do everything right; from when you walked in and were greeted to always fresh and delicious bread that was cut and delivered to the table, still hot from the oven. But now, it seems they’re slipping. I get the feeling they are trying to cultivate the “Authentic French Bistro” vibe at the expense of the “up-scale basics.” Read on.
Our party of five arrived and it was a beautiful summer night. We wanted to proceed to our outside table right away. The table wasn’t ready and we were asked to wait at the bar, no problem. Here’s the kicker: the bar was in total disarray. It was littered with empty, dirty, glasses and the bartender was (rightfully) flustered by the scene. It was like sitting at the sink with the dishwasher. We don’t want to see dirty glasses piled up, we are the customers. Hide that stuff from us, will ya?
We waited at the bar for ~20 min. We finally asked the hostess to either put as at a four-top (any four-top) or come-up with something else as we were tired of waiting (and hungry). The restaurant that once ran like a Swiss clock was running like a French car.
The set-up of the patio was nice that evening; very charming, and the perfect summer night made it all the better. The musicians were playing at a nice volume (not blowing us away) and were quite pleasant to listen to. They were called Sonny & Perley, and they were a nice touch. They even did a really nice rendition of the Edith Piaf classic, “Milord.”
In between sets, loud French music was played and I noticed more than one table asking their waiters to turn down the blaring music.
The waiter brought us the, once-famous, bread, and it was, well, not-good. Spongy and previously frozen, it was nothing like the bread they used to serve.
The service for the evening left much to be desired. Our waiter had to be reminded several times to fulfill our requests (e.g. more bread, etc.).
We looked at the menu, even though we already knew what to expect from the always-informative Table Hopping blog. I ordered the escargot a l’ancienne (garlic herb butter and puff pastry dome) and Cati had the vichyssoise soup. The escargot was good. It was served with a puffed pastry, but if I could just get my hands on the quality bread they used to serve, I would have been set.
The vichyssoise soup, on the other hand, was out-of-this-world. There is one thing Nicole’s Bistro still does very well, and it’s soups/bisques. There was absolutely nothing wrong with the leek-y, creamy, chilled summer-soup that was served that night. “+1” for the soup.
We ordered our entrées. I ordered the steak a l’echalotte (grilled New York sirloin with shallot butter), cottage fried potatoes. I knew from experience to order my steak under-cooked in order to get it prepared like I wanted. The chef is a bit grill-happy. So I asked for it rare, even though I prefer medium rare, and it came out medium (I can do that). An exceptional cut of meat it was not, but I have no complaints about my entrée. The sauce, potatoes, and vegetables were excellent.
Cati ordered the gigot d’agneau (charred sirloin of lamb), rosemary-scented demiglace, garlic mashed potatoes. It was good, but tepid. She dislikes luke-warm food, so she politely sent it back to be heated up. This is this kind of amateur oversight that the Albany market is out-growing. With places like 677 Prime, Yono’s, and Marche less than a mile away, Nicole’s Bistro has to get their merde together, or get left behind. I want to be loyal to Nicole’s Bistro, but they aren’t making it easy. The restaurant scene is evolving in Albany. The bar is getting higher.
So Cati had to wait for her food to be brought back out hot (as it should have been the first time). [sigh]
Dessert came out and it was very nice (forgot the camera), I had the crème caramel, which was a lot like flan, and Cati had the chocolate mousse. I liked them both very much, but Cati was disappointed that it wasn’t dark chocolate mousse, but hey, that’s a 50:50 shot.
One of our fellow diners asked to have her food boxed-up to take home, and the waiter never brought it back. He came back and apologized, but c’mon, this place was/is better than this. These little blunders shouldn’t happen (over and over, much less).
There are still a lot of good things about Nicole’s Bistro, but I was left disappointed on my last two visits. Against the advice of every math teacher I’ve ever had, I am drawing a line through my two data points, and extrapolating to “lower expectations.”
Although not obvious from my needling and nit-picking, we actually had a nice time. Our dinner partners were/are a charming lot. I’ll jut have to suggest somewhere else next time we all go out.
Maybe Sickboy’s unifying theory of life applies to restaurants as well (i.e. you have it, then you lose it).
Unfortunately, Nicole’s Bistro and I now have a new song.