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Comme ci, comme ça at Bleu Bohème

What to hit and what to miss at this French bistro in Kensington

Filet mignon dish
Filet mignon dish
Place

Bleu Bohème

4090 Adams Avenue, San Diego

Bleu Bohème’s French farmhouse interior, comprised of stone walls, menus on chalkboards, and white candles dripping wax over their holders, brings me right back to lazy afternoons with my love in Provence. On my most recent visit, however, I detected a flaw in my French fantasy fare — when it comes to the menu, some selections are outstanding, and others are downright disappointing.

I will be back, again and again, for all the things Bleu Bohème does so very well. For example, there’s the warm rustic bread with lightly salted butter. Crispy on the outside, soft on the inside; it’s the kind of bread that makes you want to forget about the potential of ruining your appetite and just keep asking for more.

Rustic fresh bread

David and I were pleasantly surprised to happen into the restaurant on a Tuesday, which we hadn’t realized was Bohemian Menu night — the happy hour deal (5 to 6 p.m. every other night) of a three-course prix fixe menu for $24.95 is made available all night on Tuesdays. David ordered from the prix fixe, but I had a hankering for a dish I’d tried and enjoyed in the past — two petite filets mignon, each with different accompaniments — so I ordered off the regular menu.

We began with a cocktail and the cheese board. For the price, we’d expected a smaller serving of the imported French cheeses, some of which I recognized, and others I was delighted to be sampling for the first time — Tomme de Savoie, Tete de Moine, Bucheron, Saint André, and Bleu d’Auvergne. Considering the high-quality ingredients, the portions were quite generous. The blue cheese (Bleu d’Auvergne) was as creamy as it was piquant. The semi-aged goat (Bucheron) and triple crème (Saint André) needed more time on the board to soften up, but once they did, they were as delectable as I knew them to be. And in the meantime, we nibbled on the two other nutty and nummy, ready-to-bite cheeses.

Fantastic cheese board

David very much enjoyed his French onion soup, with caramelized Spanish onions, beef consommé, and Gruyère. And I enjoyed stealing a spoonful or two.

It was after the cheese board and soup that things pretty much went to merde. My entrée was just bad. Oh, it looked nice. I was all licking my lips when our server (side note: service is solid, no complaints there) placed it before me. I’m not entirely sure how it was possible with all those ingredients on my plate (asparagus, blue cheese potatoes, wild mushrooms), but there was no flavor. No umami, nothing savory. The potatoes tasted like boiled water with the occasional sharpness of the blue cheese. The meat, though plenty pink in the middle, as I’d asked for medium, was as tough and bland as a little leather nugget. I speckled salt over my plate, hoping to evoke whatever zest might be left in the flavor-drained food, but it was the same, just saltier. Of the red wine sauce, well, I’d have gotten more dimension and less bitterness if I’d tipped my glass of Bordeaux over the dish myself.

French onion soup

As I picked around my plate (the asparagus and crispy shallots were okay), I wondered if perhaps my failing was ordering off the regular menu and not from the prix-fixe menu; that maybe the kitchen was only really prepared to excel with those options that particular night. This theory was proven incorrect when I later asked David what he’d thought of his coq au vin.

“It was terrible,” David said. “The taste was both bland and bitter. It was like bitterness without any flavor. For a dish that I would expect to be savory, it tasted a little like bad red wine, and that’s about it. Supposedly there's bacon in the dish, and though I found some pieces of it, there was no bacon flavor to be found. No amount of salt could save it.”

“Then why did you eat it?” I said. I remembered he’d pushed the sauce to one side of the plate, but he’d eaten most of the chicken, which he'd also described as flavorless.

Coq au vin

“I don’t know, and I regret it," David said with a shrug. "I didn’t enjoy it. I think I kept eating it out of some sense of duty, they way you do when you’re a guest in someone’s home and don’t want to offend them." I could understand. The reason I had given a half-hearted smile and a "we're fine" when our server asked us how we were doing was because I simply wasn't in the mood to make any kind of fuss.

Profiterole

The final disappointment came in the form of a profiterole. The ice cream was fine, but the pastry was not a “puff,” as advertised. It was hard and dense, and tasted like baking soda.

Next time, we will avoid the entrées and stick to what we know Bleu Bohème does best: small plates, soups, salads, and mussels. I’m looking forward to trying the charcuterie board. If it’s anything like the cheese board, I’ll be in French heaven.

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Filet mignon dish
Filet mignon dish
Place

Bleu Bohème

4090 Adams Avenue, San Diego

Bleu Bohème’s French farmhouse interior, comprised of stone walls, menus on chalkboards, and white candles dripping wax over their holders, brings me right back to lazy afternoons with my love in Provence. On my most recent visit, however, I detected a flaw in my French fantasy fare — when it comes to the menu, some selections are outstanding, and others are downright disappointing.

I will be back, again and again, for all the things Bleu Bohème does so very well. For example, there’s the warm rustic bread with lightly salted butter. Crispy on the outside, soft on the inside; it’s the kind of bread that makes you want to forget about the potential of ruining your appetite and just keep asking for more.

Rustic fresh bread

David and I were pleasantly surprised to happen into the restaurant on a Tuesday, which we hadn’t realized was Bohemian Menu night — the happy hour deal (5 to 6 p.m. every other night) of a three-course prix fixe menu for $24.95 is made available all night on Tuesdays. David ordered from the prix fixe, but I had a hankering for a dish I’d tried and enjoyed in the past — two petite filets mignon, each with different accompaniments — so I ordered off the regular menu.

We began with a cocktail and the cheese board. For the price, we’d expected a smaller serving of the imported French cheeses, some of which I recognized, and others I was delighted to be sampling for the first time — Tomme de Savoie, Tete de Moine, Bucheron, Saint André, and Bleu d’Auvergne. Considering the high-quality ingredients, the portions were quite generous. The blue cheese (Bleu d’Auvergne) was as creamy as it was piquant. The semi-aged goat (Bucheron) and triple crème (Saint André) needed more time on the board to soften up, but once they did, they were as delectable as I knew them to be. And in the meantime, we nibbled on the two other nutty and nummy, ready-to-bite cheeses.

Fantastic cheese board

David very much enjoyed his French onion soup, with caramelized Spanish onions, beef consommé, and Gruyère. And I enjoyed stealing a spoonful or two.

It was after the cheese board and soup that things pretty much went to merde. My entrée was just bad. Oh, it looked nice. I was all licking my lips when our server (side note: service is solid, no complaints there) placed it before me. I’m not entirely sure how it was possible with all those ingredients on my plate (asparagus, blue cheese potatoes, wild mushrooms), but there was no flavor. No umami, nothing savory. The potatoes tasted like boiled water with the occasional sharpness of the blue cheese. The meat, though plenty pink in the middle, as I’d asked for medium, was as tough and bland as a little leather nugget. I speckled salt over my plate, hoping to evoke whatever zest might be left in the flavor-drained food, but it was the same, just saltier. Of the red wine sauce, well, I’d have gotten more dimension and less bitterness if I’d tipped my glass of Bordeaux over the dish myself.

French onion soup

As I picked around my plate (the asparagus and crispy shallots were okay), I wondered if perhaps my failing was ordering off the regular menu and not from the prix-fixe menu; that maybe the kitchen was only really prepared to excel with those options that particular night. This theory was proven incorrect when I later asked David what he’d thought of his coq au vin.

“It was terrible,” David said. “The taste was both bland and bitter. It was like bitterness without any flavor. For a dish that I would expect to be savory, it tasted a little like bad red wine, and that’s about it. Supposedly there's bacon in the dish, and though I found some pieces of it, there was no bacon flavor to be found. No amount of salt could save it.”

“Then why did you eat it?” I said. I remembered he’d pushed the sauce to one side of the plate, but he’d eaten most of the chicken, which he'd also described as flavorless.

Coq au vin

“I don’t know, and I regret it," David said with a shrug. "I didn’t enjoy it. I think I kept eating it out of some sense of duty, they way you do when you’re a guest in someone’s home and don’t want to offend them." I could understand. The reason I had given a half-hearted smile and a "we're fine" when our server asked us how we were doing was because I simply wasn't in the mood to make any kind of fuss.

Profiterole

The final disappointment came in the form of a profiterole. The ice cream was fine, but the pastry was not a “puff,” as advertised. It was hard and dense, and tasted like baking soda.

Next time, we will avoid the entrées and stick to what we know Bleu Bohème does best: small plates, soups, salads, and mussels. I’m looking forward to trying the charcuterie board. If it’s anything like the cheese board, I’ll be in French heaven.

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Comments
2

"I must differ with Barbarella. Her only qualification as a food critic is she likes to eat lots. Having the Reader pick up her tab and paying a pittance for the review is the motivation, not accuracy and objectivity."

It tastes good or it doesn't - what qualifies someone to make that distinction, perhaps being, say, human?

Granted we all have different tastes, but I guess a "qualified food critic" is someone who can convince as as to why we should like something that doesn't appeal to out taste buds.

Jan. 17, 2014

Just to be clear, all my meals are paid for entirely out of my own pocket. The Reader pays nothing toward the cost of the meal. And what I get paid for my reviews would not even cover the cost of one person dining at this establishment. I write about my experiences because people frequently ask me for, and trust my recommendations.

Regarding my qualifications -- I have a broad, sophisticated palate, honed through years of dining at establishments (both high-end and low-brow) on three continents, and have sampled everything from simple bistro fare in Paris to elaborate 15-course kaiseki meals at traditional ryokans in the Japanese countryside. I have assisted (and ghost-written for) noted food critics.

Sure, taste is subjective, to a point. But this is not just about something "tasting good." It's about whether or not a dish is "executed well." In this particular case, the poor execution of certain dishes (classic French dishes that are supposed to have a certain quality about them, regardless of where they are made) was unanimously agreed upon between the three people who were in attendance (I did not mention the third in my story).

Ultimately, when reading reviews by restaurant critics, wine critics, movie critics, etc., you have to decide whether your taste is aligned with that of the reviewer.

Jan. 17, 2014

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