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Issue date: January 05, 2001

Deep red walls, wood paneling and mirrors add to the ambiance of Bistro Vida, giving the popular restaurant a comfortable atmosphere. The bistro features an extensive wine list and varied choice of entrees, as well as several vegetarian dishes.

Josh Keithley

In Bistro Vida, a neighborhood restaurant with an elegant feel In Bistro Vida, a neighborhood restaurant with an elegant feel (January 05, 2001)

By Joni Ratts

On a chilly evening, nothing is better than delicious food and a pleasant place to eat. Welcome to Bistro Vida in Menlo Park.

Bistro Vida's exterior is tastefully simple. An elegant black door opens to a curtained vestibule, which leads into the restaurant. The high ceiling gives a feeling of spaciousness, while the deep red walls with sections of wood paneling and mirrors keep the room from feeling impersonal. Linen tablecloths and wall sconces casting amber light complete the aesthetics. You have the sense of entering someone's home.

The proprietor, Ali Elsafy, wanted to create a "comfortable, neighborhood atmosphere" when he opened three years ago. He has succeeded.

The restaurant is popular, and as the evening lengthens the noise level tends to rise. The only other inconvenience is the small size of the tables. The staff is friendly, pleasant, and efficient. The service is prompt without being rushed.

Bistro Vida's menus, each personalized with a black-and-white photograph of Ali's family, currently feature winter dishes. The smells from the open kitchen are tantalizing.

There is an extensive and geographically diverse wine list. We chose a Cotes du Rhone Le Berberine 1998 ($28/bottle, $8/glass) from the Rhone Valley. It was an excellent accompaniment to our meal. Champagnes and California wines are also available.

Bistro Vida serves a wide range of appetizers. I chose the soup of the day ($6), potato leek. Topped with snips of fresh chives, the pale yellow soup had the texture of thickened cream. The flavors were subtle, but distinct and well-balanced.

Only two salads are on the menu, but both are large enough to share.

The Salade Verte ($6), a mix of gathered greens with a mustard vinaigrette, was light and fresh with a slightly sweet taste. A small slice of French bread, toasted and spread with a mild herb cheese, garnished the plate.

The Caesar Salad ($7) had a creamy dressing with a hint of anchovy that blended superbly with the reggiano bread crumbs. The romaine lettuce came as whole leaves.

Choosing an entree proved more difficult. There is a varied choice of meat, fish, poultry, and pasta, as well as several vegetarian dishes.

I selected Daube de Boeuf au Vin Rouge ($16.50), beef stew with peas and carrots. The beef and vegetables were tender and flavorful. The gravy was a bit peppery, but to my liking. Nestled in the same bowl was a serving of mashed potatoes sprinkled with fresh chives. I was pleasantly satisfied with my choice.

The Moules Pommes Frites ($15), served in a large bowl, consisted of steamed mussels in a white wine with onions and chopped chives. They were mild, sweet and perfectly cooked. The fries were light and crispy. This dish was an excellent choice.

The Cote du Porc ($16.50), pork chop with mashed potatoes and caramelized onions, was superb. It was accompanied by an al dente medley of broccoli, green beans and carrots. My companion didn't know which bite to eat last.

Dessert, always a temptation, included a Tart Citron ($6) (lemon tart) that was delicate, fresh, and dusted with powdered sugar. The Profiterole with Fudge Sauce ($6), however, was a disappointment. The vanilla ice cream and fudge sauce were delicious, but the cream puff was tough.

Bistro Vida offers a good selection of aperitifs and liquors. Cheese is available, as well as coffee and coffee-specialty drinks.

The lunch menu looks appealing, with a good choice of sandwiches and entrees ($7-$10). The weekend brunch menu ($2.75-$8) features specialty egg dishes, crepes, french toast, cereals, and pastries. The take-out menu is extensive.

To sum up our eating experience, I will quote from the Bistro menu: "The Bistro is that little neighborhood restaurant where they know who you are, greet you warmly, and serve you satisfying foods that change with the seasons and define regional homey French cuisine." I couldn't have said it any better.

Bistro Vida, 641 Avenue Santa Cruz, Menlo Park. Phone: 462-1686. Hours: Breakfast: Sat.-Sun., 9:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.; Lunch: Tue.-Fri., 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.; Dinner: Tue.-Thurs., 5:30-10:30 p.m.; Fri.-Sat., 5:30-11 p.m.; Sun., 5-9 p.m. Reservations for six or more. Credit cards accepted. Take-out available. 


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