Edit: I just found out last week that Bistro Zazou has closed. Alas. 3/18/08
One of our favorite restaurants in Bellingham used to be the Calumet, until one day we headed there for my birthday dinner and it had gone out of business. We ended up discovering Flats as a result, so we ended up happy that day, but we continued to walk sadly by the old location. The last time we did, though, we saw that a new place had arisen – Bistro Zazou – a French bistro! We’re very partial to casual French restaurants, since we hiked our way through the Vaucluse in 2004, so we try to check out any place that looks like it might have that certain vibe. We finally got there this weekend, and while it didn’t quite live up to my (admittedly high) expectations, I’m happy to have this little slice of France somewhat nearby.
The space is warm and inviting, with lots of mirrors and black and white photographs. The table we ended up at (after I asked to not be seated right next to a table full of young children) was next to a small gas-fire stove, so it was fairly cozy. We ordered cocktails and studied the menu hard.
We started off with a basket of gougères. I’ve made these at home twice, and we had them again at Pair, so I have a pretty good idea of what they should be like: hot little crispy puffs with a touch of custard in the center. When the waitress brought us our order at Zazou, she announced “hot gougères.” She was lying – they probably had been hot sometime during the day, but had pretty obviously been made ahead of time and then microwaved. They were lukewarm to cold, and squishily textured like a Costco frozen cream puff. We ate a couple and left the rest, but our server never asked us if we liked them.
Things got better after that – for our next course we ordered the French vegetable salad plate, and it was excellent: very simple, very French. There were three bowls on a tray with a piece of sour baguette, one with celery remoulade, one with herbed lentils, and one with roasted beets. The flavor of the vegetables was the focus, and I appreciated the clarity and restraint. We ate it all and felt better about things.
For the main course, I had lamb rib chops with pear-mint chutney, cinnamony couscous and a pile of carrots and leeks that didn’t really do anything for me. The lamb was slightly overcooked but pleasant, and I liked the combination of the chutney and the couscous. J ordered the steak-frites, just because someone had to. It was the definite winner of the night – the steak was nicely cooked, had a good big blob of melting herb butter on top of it, and came with a basket of really pretty spectacular frites, crispy and blazingly hot. It also came with the pile of bland vegetables. We drank a bottle of Clos Mimi syrah, which was nice enough.
We were uninspired by the dessert list, so we headed down to the Temple Bar for the remainder of the evening. We decided the outing had been a success overall, but weren’t sure that Bistro Zazou had put itself very high on our must-come-back list. I love what they’re trying to do, and I applaud their goal of someday becoming an all-hours French bistro with breakfast, lunch, dinner and coffee, but I think I’ll give them a little more time to work the bugs out. And I won’t be ordering those gougères again until I know they’re making them fresh!