Familiar favorite

In case you missed it, here is my review of Fifi’s Bistro Cafe that appeared in Thursday’s Go! section of the Monterey Herald. I’ll be reposting my reviews and stories from my weekly column for the Herald here on my blog along with extra photos that didn’t appear in print.

In life, sometimes you don’t always wind up where you want to be, but that turns out to be exactly where you need to be.

That was the case for my dinner on Sunday night. When the crowds of tourists kept me out of the new hot spots downtown, I headed up the hill for dinner.

I hadn't planned on dining at Fifi's last weekend, but it turned out to be a great dinner.

I wound up at Fifi’s Bistro Café mostly out of convenience, but I was pleasantly surprised how much I enjoyed dinner.

My friend and I split two appetizers to start — a salad and foie gras.

Given my fondness for crispy duck, I ordered the spinach and crispy duck salad ($7.95). Surprisingly, the salad was a bit of a miss for me.

I wanted to like the crispy duck salad, but the flavors just didn't play nice together.

The salty duck, earthy spinach and sweet honey ginger vinaigrette dressing didn’t come together harmoniously — each flavor fought for attention on my palate.

The night’s special appetizer — foie gras au torchon ($14.95) — was much better. It was made in a traditional French preparation — the foie gras is wrapped in a dish towel, poached, chilled then served so it essentially turns into butter.

But this foie gras appetizer was outstanding and set dinner back on track.

The foie was dense and fatty, making for a decadent start to the meal. My only complaint was the accompanying toasted baguette — these crostini were too few and too crumbly.

For our entrees, my friend and I were tempted by two dishes; we ordered both to divide and conquer. She had the poulet champignon au chvre — chicken breast stuffed with goat cheese and herbs ($19.95) — and I tried the duck a l’orange ($24.95).

Duck a l’orange is the quintessential French favorite — salt-roasted duck with Grand Marnier sauce. The duck was cooked “Peking style” so the meat inside was tender, but the outside crispy with just a hint of salt.

The duck a l'orange was perfectly crispy with a light touch of Grand Marnier.

The Grand Marnier sauce was applied with a delicate touch, so it didn’t drown the duck as sometimes can be the case in other restaurants.

From the sizeable bite I stole of the chicken, it was quite tasty — so tasty I snuck in a couple more bites when my friend wasn’t looking.

The chicken was full of flavor.

The mushroom sauce gave a rich flavor that perfectly complemented the fragrant herbs stuffed inside. And the goat cheese was a nice tart accent.

Both dishes were paired with roasted potatoes and green beans. The green beans were a bit bland, but the potatoes were great — cooked perfectly crispy.

When it came time for dessert, our server brought out a tray of desserts to tempt us. But I had already spotted a tempting tarte tatin from the evening’s specials.

The tarte tatin — a rustic upside-down apple tart ($6) that’s popular in the French countryside — was a tad bittersweet, like the sugar burnt a little while caramelizing the apples.

The tarte tatin was nice, but I've had better.

But it’s rare to find tarte tatin on menus, so I was willing to overlook this minor imperfection.

Likewise, the creme brulee didn't live up to the savory entrees.

We also tried the orange creme brulée ($5.95), which had nice flavor, seasoned ever so subtly with orange. But the custard was too fluffy and the caramelized sugar on top was a bit burnt.

While most diners have turned their attention to the new kids on the block that are shaking up our dining scene, there’s something to be said for veterans of the Peninsula’s food scene, like Fifi’s Bistro Café.

What Fifi’s Bistro Café lacks in glitz and glamour, it makes up for in years of experience preparing fabulous French fare.

Fifi’s Bistro Café is at 1188 Forest Ave. in Pacific Grove. 372-5325. www.fifisbistrocafe.com.

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