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May 15, 2008

So what is a bistro anyway?



I know I promised to do bistros for next Tuesday's Top Ten (thanks for the suggestion, greedygirl), and I'm not backing down. But I think Robert the Single One makes a good point about definitions. Bistros are so trendy the word is popping up in some rather odd places, such as P.F. Chang's China Bistro. If we don't reach some consensus on what the list should consist of, THEN I'm backing down.

Here's what I said in a story I wrote on bistros three years ago:

Don't worry about the distinction between a bistro and a brasserie. Even the food professionals are vague. Both are small, informal and involve alcoholic beverages as well as food. In the United States, the terms are meaningless except to suggest that these are high-energy, casual places where you can have good food and fun.

My biggest concern is that I can't come up with ten of them, unless I can include P.F. Chang's. JUST KIDDING. JUST KIDDING. 


(Gene Sweeney Jr./Sun photographer) 

Posted by Elizabeth Large at 4:44 AM | | Comments (24)
Categories: Top Ten Tuesdays


We LOVE the Artful Gourmet Bistro in Owings Mills. Can't get there enough. Great ambience, pretty good prices and great food. Also nice for us who don't want to schlep to the city! Wish it was BYOB though because as (it seems) every other dining establishment, wine prices pretty hefty!

Petit Louie would be #1 on my list. The kind of neighborhood bistro that should be in everyone's neighbood.

Don't forget Aida Bistro in Columbia. You know it's a bistro because the name says so...:-) Good food and a great wine list...

I would assume the general consensus on Petit Louis Bistro in Roland Park is that it is classy to say the least. When I think of a classic bistro ambiance outside of France, this is the kind of restaurant that comes to mind. Even the acoustics enhance the experience. The wait staff is superb and the dishes are fresh and light. Love, love, love the experience here.

Well, first off a bistro certainly cannot be part of a chain.

To me, the environment in which it is located is a big part. I think of a bistro as a neighborhood restaurant you can walk into right off the street (re: no malls or strip malls where you have to park in a big parking lot with people shopping at the Giant). As far as the food goes, we are talking unpretentious high-quality comfort food served with an equally unpretentious bottle of wine or a beer. Of course, outdoor dining is practically an automatic qualifier, but not a must.

I would put Regi's in Federal Hill and b Bistro (duh) in Bolton Hill on the list ... maybe you have to be located on a hill to qualify?

So what's the difference between a bistro and a gastropub?

Timothy Dean Bistro and The Bicycle Bistro. I also second the Petit Louis nomination.

I don't agree that a strip mall location should exclude a restaurant from being including as a bistro.

I'll be dining at Petit Louis for the first time on Saturday ---- Would anyone care to comment on some of their favorite dishes there? I don't have a very extensive Gack! catalog so all foods are a go pretty much.

Petit Louis recommendation: if they have it (which they likely won't, since its typically a "cold-weather" dish), the cassoulet. Out. Of. This. World.

Another great dish at Petit Louis is the sweetbreads (Ris de Veau Poêlé). Its something you find ofter, anymore.

What to have at Petite Louis...the French onion soup. I know it's cliche, but it really is the best I've ever had. They make their own veal stock. It's sweet brown nectar of the gods. Also, they do duck really well.

I am so honored that my suggestion was used :-) Thanks EL! b in Bolton Hill is a lovely place. I was hoping to find similar places.

So what's the difference between a bistro and a gastropub?

Gastropub is more pretentious.

flying nanando - consider the duck confit. Oh my heavens, is it out of this word!!!! (Sorry, Owlie.)

And, if I remember correctly, the Saturday special is the braised beef shortribs. Hubby loves this dish.

While you can't get the cassoulet this time of year at PL, you can always get the duck confit. Another good bet is the roast chicken. I know...roast chicken is something you make at home, but their roast chicken, unlike the one I make at home, is tender and flavorful. The sweetbreads are great, and they are now available every night. The shortribs, which are also great, are only available on Saturday night. Another great special is the Beef Tartar offered on Thursdays.

The mussels are a fantastic place to start at Petit Louis - you have to try them. Also had the best pork tenderloin ever a few winters back, but I think that's another "cold-weather" dish. Bon apetit!

Thanks all -- For your helpful recommendations! Can't wait to try some of them.

flying nanando - we hope you'll report back on what you decided on and what you thought of it.

I second the vote for Artful Gourmet Bistro in Owings Mills. It's the best!

A hearty second for Regi's, in the 1000 block Light Street. Warning: Don't count on walking in late in the week and weekends. Reserve, if only an hour in advance. Many of us neighborhood folk often fill it up.
An offbeat suggestion: It looks nothing like what most of us think of as a bistro, but SoBo Cafe on Cross Street, a block west of the market, specializes in the kind of bourgeois cooking that is a counterpart (but nothing like) a French bistro. Warning: the Cross/Charles street area is pretty torn up by some major water main work right now.

If anyone has any more detailed thoughts on Aida Bistro in Columbia, I'd love to hear them (or read them, as it were).
I'm considering that as the location for an important dinner (boyfriend's closest relatives fly in for a day and meet my parents there, first meeting ever!). We're looking for casual with simple, good food.

My wife and I and many of our friends dine at Aida Bistro very often. We LOVE the house made Pasta and yes they make whole wheat pasta. We like the small plate offering. Nothing like a small plate or two and an matched glass of wine with each plate, oh yes life is good.

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About this blog
Richard Gorelick was appointed The Baltimore Sun's restaurant critic in September 2010. Before joining the paper staff fulltime, he contributed freelance criticism and features articles about food to area and regional publications. Along the way, he dispatched for short-distance trucking companies, shilled for cultural non-profits, and assisted in cognitive neurology research – never the subject, always the control.

He takes restaurants seriously but not himself, and his favorite restaurant is the one you love, too.

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