By David Minsky
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By Bill Wisser
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On the Website where I first found Le Petit Bistro, it sounded like a terrific concept. Categorized as French, the eatery touted itself as combining "the convenience of quick service with the tastes and selections found in an upscale bistro." Since I subsequently noticed two other Miami-Dade Le Petit Bistros listed, all in shopping malls, it was obvious that the place was a fast-food chain. But as chains like Quizno's -- whose subs have far tastier and higher-quality ingredients than those at the last three indie sub shops I've reviewed -- demonstrate, to be across the-board anti-chain or anti-fast food is not evidence of taste; it's merely evidence of pretension.
In France there are prepared foods/charcuterie departments in every Monoprix (think French Kmart), whose fast-food offerings -- which Le Petit Bistro's promised menu of "freshly baked breads, sandwiches made with the finest meats and cheeses, bistro-style charcuterie salads, fresh tossed crudité salads, hot meals, and baked desserts" evoked encouragingly -- beat most American slow foods. Anyway, would the high-rent new Village of Merrick Park mall risk typical low-rent mall food getting hurled all over the Jimmy Choo pumps?
Based on two recent visits, oui.
Your first hint that le Village ain't Paree comes from the eatery's co-tenant; Le Petit Bistro shares its space with a Sbarro, and the bistro's food is about as French as the latter's petrified pasta buffet is authentically Italian. Genuine charcuterie salads, like the leeks vinaigrette or celery remoulade no French charcuterie would exist without? Not a one. Salads were mostly starches, piles of pasta with a little protein mixed in -- assuming your server's paying attention to what's on the serving spoon. A tuna pasta salad I tried didn't have enough canned tuna in my portion to locate without reading glasses. A chicken ziti salad did contain considerable chicken, but the overcooked dry chunks tasted like they'd fallen into the sugar bowl on the way to the oven, and caramelized. The overall effect was like eating mayo-drenched poultry lollipops.
The "fresh" crudité salads were, with one exception, nothing but romaine lettuce garnished with not nearly enough of various toppings (croutons on the caesar, cucumber and, presumably -- though not visibly -- dill on the dill salad) to disguise the fact that the brown-edged lettuce was, on not just one but both visits, as limp as my best friend's ex-husband. The one nonromaine exception in the crudité category: a not-so-mixed vegetable salad (oversized carrot slices, green and red peppers, and a few bits of alarmingly unripe tomato) that came with a choice of two packaged Ken's salad dressings. I chose "Country French." It was that orange stuff.
Sandwiches, too, were mostly starch -- double-thick slices of not-awful but very heavy bread, with meager fillings of French faves like cold pastrami and gelatinous boiled ham. Imported Madrange ham? Brie? Pâté? Please.
Hot meal selections were, both times, two: chicken, and chicken. The former, in BBQ sauce, looked to be about the same age as the romaine; I didn't attempt it. The latter, which tasted like it had been presoaked in super-sweet teriyaki marinade, came coated in greasy glop that might pass as French cream sauce among the same sort of diners who think orange stuff is French salad dressing.
Baked desserts "in the European tradition" included the bistro's only item that was even vaguely French, a Napoleon whose appearance, not to mention the vintage durability of its pastry layers, suggested that the emperor himself might have baked it. Better choice was a not French, but not totally inedible, coconut layer cake. Best choice would have been to wait till next fall, when Norman Van Aken's Mundo is scheduled to open in the Village.