Wednesday, April 26, 2006

The Quarter Bistro

On Good Friday I went with two compatriots to a restaurant that opened relatively recently on the west side of town. This is the review I promised a few interested friends.

The Quarter Bistro and Tavern, according to its website, "aims to deliver a unique and exciting dining experience by marrying European Bistro dining with a Cajun/Creole twist." Well, I've dined in European bistros and also in places with Cajun/Creole twists. I won't say "the Q" fails at its stated aim, but I will say the first thing I thought when I saw the building was that it must have formerly been a place with a name like "Big Billy Jim Bob's Texan House of Beef." (Not that there's anything wrong with that.)

Inside it was a bit different. Much effort was put into transforming the Big Billy Jim Bob vibe into that Cajun/Creole bistro atmosphere. (Unfortunately, I didn't have my camera with me so I don't have photos to share.) I give points for the tasteful furniture and some of the decor, though I really think they could do better with the paintings and such that they chose. The wrought iron door handles (even in the men's room) were definitely cool.

The bar was nice and long. The bartenders were nice and clueless. We sat for quite some time while about four or five staff members conferred about nothing in particular at the opposite end of the bar. Once we were noticed, we were, however, delighted to discover they had Jolly Pumpkin Bam on tap. Other draft selections were curious: I can't remember the last time I saw Moosehead on tap. Actually, I'm not sure I've ever seen Moosehead on tap. A questionable choice to begin with, but especially so for a "European bistro" style place.

Though we remained at the bar the entire time, service was rather lackadaisical. We got the distinct impression that many of the staff didn't really know what they were doing. Were they first-time servers? It almost seemed that way with their recurring inattentiveness. I expect this is something that will improve over time; at least, I hope so. (Of course, it could be they were trying to be more authentically New Orleans this way, too -- no one's ever in a hurry down there.)

Now, the food. Here we have a mixed bag. I began with the Oysters Bienville appetizer, which was delicious. The oysters, cooked in their half-shells, were smothered with a thick cream sauce with bits of bacon, clam, shrimp, peppers, and other assorted ingredients. Right up my alley.

Normally, it would have been more difficult to choose an entree with some of my favorites like red beans and rice, muffulettas, and jambalaya on the menu. But it was Good Friday and so no meat for me: I selected the shrimp po' boy with "Cajun fries." It was a good choice -- maybe the best representation of a po' boy I've come across outside of New Orleans. I am now, of course, curious about how they do muffulettas.

Mel ordered a chicken po' boy, which she reported was excellent, and some type of shrimp appetizer the name of which I didn't catch. They were apparently extremely spicy but tasty.

Matt was not so lucky. His duck salad was, in his words, "the absolute worst thing I've ever been served in a restaurant." The duck was undercooked and stringy and he said the salad dressing tasted like they just poured orange juice over the lettuce.

Points must be deducted for the musical accompaniment. There was some sort of DJ hovering around a mass of speakers and other audio equipement not far from where we were sitting. Some of his selections were appropriate for the setting and conducive to fine dining, such as Dave Brubeck and Peggy Lee. Most were Kenny G–style elevator jazz atrocities or else cheeseball soul/R&B tunes. All of it was played at too loud a volume. I would have preferred a quieter, tasteful mix of canned jazz -- the real stuff -- to this DJ's wretched ideas about what constitutes dinner music.

Prices were typical Ann Arbor: a bit overpriced, but not as bad as some other places around town. The po' boys were $9.50, but Matt's hated duck salad was $15, a fact he mentioned bitterly about a dozen times over the rest of the evening.

All in all, I think the place clearly has some kinks to work out. I enjoyed my meal and would like to see how they handle other dishes, so I'll definitely go back at some point. But I'll probably have to find new dining companions. Who's game?