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I’ll confess: It takes a major incentive to get me to drive out to the suburbs these days. Facing ever-worsening traffic, and the time spent driving, I’m far more inclined just to walk somewhere or take Metro. One exception I’ll make, though, is to dine at Bistro Bistro in Shirlington.
For those not familiar with Shirlington, it’s about a ten-minute, non-rush hour drive south of the Potomac just off I-395 in Arlington. A long, one-block strip of shops and restaurants known as Shirlington Village attracts people from around the region. A rather large concentration of gays and lesbians live in the immediate area and flock there to enjoy dining, shopping and the seven-screen movie theater that runs many of the same independent niche films shown in Dupont Circle.
Despite the rather small size of the village, it has an ample range of dining options — including Thai, American, tapas, and Chinese. I’ve always preferred Bistro Bistro, a fairly upscale yet very comfortable place that serves American cuisine with generous influences from Italy and France. Decorated in earthy tones, and featuring large, attractive wall murals, Bistro Bistro seems to be always busy. And for good reason.
The food is of the good, satisfying variety you hope to find at a neighborhood eatery. There’s nothing pretentious about the menu or the place itself, and the inviting atmosphere welcomes at once. It’s a good place for some comfort food on a chilly winter’s night.
Appetizers here are generally not up to par with the main courses. House smoked salmon arrives completely obscured under a pile of toasted bread, but once liberated is fresh and flavorful. Accompanied by capers and a sweet dill sauce, this is one of the best starters on the menu.
Jamaican jerk chicken spring rolls are both unattractive and uninteresting. They arrive looking like the worst of the fried egg rolls you’ve seen in Chinese restaurants. The outside wrappers are over-fried and the chicken filling is extremely dry and much too mild to carry the “jerk” label. An imaginative touch is lent to the dish by its mango-ginger dipping sauce — a successful blending of two flavors.
On one evening, a special salad of mixed greens, pear, gorgonzola and walnuts proved a relative success, though its overall flavor and appearance was marred somewhat by the fairly large cubes of under-ripened, unpeeled Bosc pears inelegantly seated among the greens.
Where Bistro Bistro really excels is with its numerous pasta dishes. My particular favorite is grilled and smoked chicken penne, with fresh spinach, wild mushrooms, red peppers and a parmesan cream sauce. For those on a diet, skip the appetizer and dessert and launch right into this savory treat. Linguini with fresh tomatoes and pesto, the tricolor tortellini with prosciutto, sun-dried tomatoes and garlic cream sauce, and the Ziti Neopolitan sauced in a spicy tomato blend of Italian sausage, julienned peppers and red onions are all equally memorable.
One other pasta offering — listed under the fish heading on the menu — is superb: sea scallops over linguini with ginger sauce and pesto. The scallops are fresh and tender, and the surprising blend of pesto and ginger gives this creation an unusual vitality.
Speaking of fish, there are ample seafood offerings to please just about everyone. The poached or grilled salmon are both great choices, although I favor the grilled version with its accompanying saffron sauce. On a recent evening an entrÃ©e special of grilled tuna with barbecue sauce came highly recommended by our waiter. My dining partner enjoyed it (I didn’t), and while the tuna was excellent, I thought the sauce tasted as if it came from a bottle and distracted from an otherwise enjoyable fish.
Desserts are hit and miss. Always dependable is the German chocolate cake, with its very rich toasted coconut, pecan and caramel icing. A major disappointment is the banana cream pie. While the vanilla pastry cream filling is acceptable, the pie, on one visit, looked as though it had been sitting around for a few days. The bananas were slightly discolored, the cream topping flat, and the crust, soggy.
A nod must go to Bistro Bistro’s Sunday buffet brunch. At $17.95 ($12.95 if you sit in the bar area), it’s one of the best bargains in the area.
Despite minor imperfections, Bistro Bistro is a solid choice for mid-priced dining in an attractive atmosphere — even if you have to drive over a bridge to get to it.
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