From top: Mouclade mussels with cream-curry sauce; Salade Niçoise au Thon (pan-seared tuna, fresh greens, eggs, olives, tomatoes and anchovies with a homemade vinaigrette); chocolate mousse. Beth Furgurson photos
During two recent visits, Belle Vie European Bistro fell a bit short of my vision of a beautiful life. Excellent service, ambiance and food, coupled with good company, equal a beautiful life, or at least a beautiful dining experience. At Belle Vie, I had no complaints about the service or company. But while there were moments of gastronomic delight, the food was uneven and the ambiance disappointing.
From Belle Vie's large menu, I recommend the mussels. There are five variations, including one in a cream-curry sauce and a garlic-cream broth. I chose the traditional Moules à la Provençale, mussels cooked in white wine, tomatoes, herbs and garlic. Served in a big pot, they are accompanied by a cone of French fries and a garlic-mustard dipping sauce. The mussels were plump and tender, and the pot they were served in seemed bottomless, but it was worth digging to find the stray mussels that had escaped their shells. They were even tastier, having soaked up the cooking broth. The slender French fries were well seasoned with salt and pepper and cooked to a crispy golden brown. The dipping sauce gave them an added zing.
We also sampled the escargots and the Coquilles de Saint-Jacques (scallops in a butter sauce with wine and shallots) as appetizers. The escargots were large and tender, with the perfect ratio of garlic to butter. The three scallops were large and just cooked through, their richness enhanced by the butter sauce. We sopped up both sauces with bread.
For our entrées, we tried the grilled salmon, the roasted lamb with thyme and a filet mignon. The filet was the most successful of the three. It was cooked as ordered (medium rare) and came with a choice of sauce, including béarnaise, mushroom, Roquefort or green peppercorn. Being somewhat of a traditionalist, I ordered the béarnaise. The tarragon enhanced the meat nicely, but the sauce was a bit thick, as though it had been sitting on the stove for a while.
The grilled salmon was well prepared but nothing special. The roasted rack of lamb was served with a small dish of delicious thyme-infused sauce. Although we ate all of it, the lamb itself seemed a bit bland, or lacking in "lamby" flavor, as my dining companion said. For side dishes, we went with our waiter's recommendation to try the Nut Potatoes. The potatoes were riced or mashed, formed into small ovals, coated with something like breadcrumbs and deep-fried. To me, they seemed like an upscale version of a Tater Tot. The haricots verts (green string beans) were sautéed with shallots, and I found them a bit overcooked, as I like mine with a bit of crunch.
For dessert, go for the chocolate mousse. It is rich, dense and dark. The chocolate flavor is intense and lingering. Less successful were the apple tart and the Crème Renversée (similar to a flan). The tart was not very attractive, and although the apples were sweet and tart at the same time, the crust was a bit tough. The custard in the Crème Renversée was a bit heavy, and the caramel sauce was thin.
Located in the Alverser Plaza space previously occupied by Bookbinder's Grill, Belle Vie has a pleasant interior with warm wood tones and a large mirror at the end of the dining room, giving the illusion of a larger space. But the overall effect seems a bit sterile. I was also put off when I noticed the television in the corner of the bar broadcasting one of the sports networks. The saving grace is that we could not hear the TV.
But I give high marks to Belle Vie's service. The waiters are knowledgeable and attentive without being obsequious.
So despite Belle Vie's inconsistencies, the restaurant is worth a visit, especially if you order the mussels and take along some good company.
1244 Alverser Plaza, Midlothian; 379-3338
Appetizers and salads $7.95 to $12.95. Entrées $13.95 to $24.95. Desserts $4.95 to $8.95.
Lunch 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m., Tuesday through Friday; dinner 5 to 10 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. A special bar menu is available after 4 p.m.