I fell for Bistro Bakery the moment I stepped in the door. The ambience of the place is so perfect for its location, just off Olmos Circle, that I thought it had been a fixture on the scene for years instead of weeks.
This is the type of neighborhood place that one would love to walk to for a cup of coffee and a French pastry or a light sandwich with friends.
The bright white walls, the metal ceiling, the buffet table of pastries and the accents of much of the staff all give the place a feeling of its having been transported straight out of Paris, rather than the authentic replica feeling you get from too many corporately produced places.
It’s small wonder the space feels right. Bistro Bakery is the latest offering from Damien Watel, whose justly praised Bistro Vatel and Ciao are just across the street. Yet the feeling evoked by Bistro Bakery is closer to that of Watel’s Le Frite Belgian Bistro in the King William district. Both are wonderfully minimal in decor, with each item carefully chosen to prompt a casual, comfortable feeling.
I loved seeing both staff and customers feel at home enough to move tables and chairs around the dining area of Bistro Bakery without any sense of formality. And as someone who drinks copious amounts of water, I loved being able to help myself to refills (the same is true of coffee and iced tea).
I also enjoyed much of the food, which is also casual despite the inclusion of lobster, foie gras and beef Wellington on the menu.
A crab salad with freshly picked meat was nicely partnered with grapefruit and mango.
Steamed leeks with a vinaigrette may not have been visually appealing and were not necessarily easy to eat, as the fibrous quality of some of outside layers had to be cut away. Yet the flavor was spectacular. The sweet nature of the leek offered a counterpart to the tart herbal dressing. It was fresh, summery and refreshing.
The same could be said for a plate with separate orders of paté and duck mousse. Both rustic treats were chilled and accompanied by olives and onions as well as some soft, nondescript bread that didn’t interfere with the flavors of either meat spread.
The crusty appeal of a baguette would have helped not only the paté, but also a smoked salmon sandwich, which was practically perfect except for a soft, overly sweet roll.
A breakfast visit featured a light yet substantive ham-and-cheese croissant.
No trip to Bistro Bakery, or any bakery, would be complete without some sampling of desserts. The best we tasted was a mouth-puckering lemon tart that was bursting with flavor. A linzer-style tart had a buttery dough matched with raspberry jelly, though a hint of almond extract would make it even better. The list of house-made ice creams, from pistachio to passion fruit, is calling me back.
My friends were not quite as genial as I was. Though all liked the space, they had some suggestions about how to make it better. One wanted French press coffee in the morning. Another wanted the refrigerated pastries better protected, because several with a creamy filling or frosting had picked up some definitely odd flavors. A third called for larger portions, saying he wasn’t full even after eating a salad, a sandwich and a dessert.
Bistro Bakery has certainly made itself at home in its space. A few adjustments will help it not only flourish but grow.
4300 McCullough Ave.
Open daily for breakfast and lunch (Sundays only until 12:30 p.m.)
$ = $10 or under per entrée
$$ = $10-$20
$$$ = $20-$30
$$$$ = $30 and up