I am clearly very late to the Buena Vista Bistro party. This pocket-sized little restaurant, just north of the Design District on N.E. 2nd Avenue, is closing in on celebrating its second anniversary. But somehow, despite having heard many raves for its thoughtfully priced, homey French bistro fare, other destinations in the Design District (Michael's Genuine, Sra. Martinez, Pacific Time) called to me with much louder voices whenever I was headed in this direction. We finally ignored those voices and gave BVB a try this week.
It's a charming little place in its own way, with dark, moody lighting, 50's style black-and-white vinyl chairs, the entire menu written on a blackboard behind the bar in back, and one long side wall entirely covered in mirrors, upon which is scrawled the wine list. It's got the bohemian vibe down pat: everyone eating here isn't French, but they look and act as if they wish they were. There are no big surprises on the menu. Apps are mostly bistro mainstays like escargot, rillettes, pâté, soupe de poisson, and the like, with some less exclusively Gallic notes here and there like tuna tartare, scallop carpaccio and caprese salad. Mains are much the same: steak (a ribeye) and frites, scallops provençal, and lamb chops share space with chicken curry, spaghetti bolognese, and farfalle alfredo.
We started with the fish soup and the rillettes. The former was a good take on the French classic, a murky, ruddy brown broth (this is not a criticism - prepared right, this is a frankly unattractive soup) well stocked with bits of fish and potently flavored with their extracted goodness. We pined, however, for the traditional accompaniment of croutons smeared with rouille and floated on the surface of the soup. Mrs. F tried her best to duplicate it with the nicely crusty bread that was brought to the table, but it wasn't quite the same. It seemed incongruous for such fine bread to be served with little single-serve pats of butter in plastic casings like you'd find in a Denny's.
The rillettes were also a fine rendition, the slowly cooked pork tender and rich, served simply with some Dijon mustard and cornichons. The only drawback was that the rillettes were served so cold that they lost out on some of their potential for unctuous goodness - no doubt closer to room temperature these would be even more lovely. But this is still a hearty, satisfying appetizer which despite the dainty ramekin it's served in could easily be split among two people, and a good deal at about $6.
Unfortunately I was somewhat less enamored with the rest of our meal. The tuna tartare Mrs. F followed her soup with was fine but unexciting in any way; the wakame salad which crowned it, redolent with sesame oil, was the overwhelmingly dominant flavor note. It also really could have used some sort of crackers or chips for scooping. I had the lamb chops as an entrée. They had been given a nice herbal marinade, but had been sliced so thin - before cooking - that getting them to only the requested medium rare was all but an impossibility. Rather than slicing these into 1/2" thick "chops" before cooking, they would have been much better served if the rack were left intact to avoid overcooking and then, if at all, carved before serving. I don't need a ton of food to be happy, but these four skinny chops seemed a slightly meager serving, though at a price of about $15 this is not a complaint about value. The mashed potatoes and ratatouille that came with the lamb chops were fine but would not inspire any homeward-bound correspondence.
In an unusual twist, the by-the-glass prices on the wines generally seem a little more reasonable than the prices by the bottle, though the Julienas we had for $40 was a good value and a good wine, and there are a decent number of choices mostly in the $35-50 range.
Despite being underwhelmed by some of the things we had, I can clearly see Buena Vista Bistro's appeal. I like its relaxed, laid-back atmosphere, and it's always nice to be able to find a meal cooked with care for a reasonable price.
Buena Vista Bistro
4582 NE 2nd Avenue
Miami, FL 33137