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Originally published Thursday, March 24, 2011 at 7:03 PM

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Restaurant review

Chloé Bistrot: Good looks, nice manners and some dishes that delight

Chloé Bistrot in Northeast Seattle offers a sedate, romantic venue for neighborhood Francophiles.

Special to The Seattle Times

Sample menu

Gratinée a l'oignon $8
Salade of smoked salad $12
Mussels Provencale $14
Grilled pork chop $17
Entrecote frites $26

Chloé Bistrot 1.5 stars

French

3515 N.E. 45th St., Seattle

206-257-0286

www.chloebistrot.com

Reservations: Recommended.

Hours: 5-10 p.m. Tuesday- Thursday; 5-10:30 p.m. Friday-Saturday; 5-9 p.m. Sunday.

Prices: $$$ (Appetizers $6-$16; entrees $14-$26.)

Drinks: Cocktails; French wines by the glass, carafe or bottle.

Parking: Free in lot behind the restaurant; entrance on 36th Avenue Northeast.

Sound: Conducive to conversation.

Who should go: A sedate, romantic venue for neighborhood Francophiles.

Credit cards: All major.

Access: No obstacles.

A storybook Parisian setting awaits diners beyond the billowing red draperies that shield the front door of Chloé Bistrot.

The Laurelhurst restaurant that replaced Enotria is as pretty as a box of bonbons. A hostess stands at a charmingly paint-spattered table flanked by tall vases of fresh flowers. Crimson banquettes rim dining rooms to the left and right like a ring of fire. Mirrors frame the smaller room; wine bottles and windows bracket the larger.

The staff wears long, white aprons over black clothing, a match for the espresso-dark walls and tabletops flagged with snowy cloth napkins. They are a charming, punctilious crew for the most part, susceptible to the occasional faux pas (a mixed-up drink order, forgotten bread, a check brought prematurely) yet thoughtful enough to mark a special occasion with a candle in a complimentary profiterole.

But good looks, nice manners and a voluptuous chocolate mousse will get a girl only so far in a competitive world; Chloé needs to get smarter in the kitchen.

French-born chef/owner Laurent Gabrel has a track record that makes Chloé's erratic performance all the more perplexing. His Voila! Bistrot has thrived for seven years in Madison Valley, and past ventures have included Figaro Bistro on Lower Queen Anne.

Chloé offers a classic French bistro menu. But dishes like boeuf bourguignon, sole meuniere, entrecote and cassoulet, which should be pieces de resistance, were disappointments.

An acrid undertow of red wine marred boeuf bourguignon, which was a shame because the beef and carrots were as tender as you could want (though not the chewy bits of spaetzle strewn on top.)

I saw a lovely plate of sole meuniere go by, but on another night, when I had it, the fish looked as if it had been flattened by a car. Parsley was embedded in the darkly browned flesh, which had a mushy texture no amount of lemon and brown butter could make appetizing. A side of haricot verts was overwhelmed with garlic. Entrecote comes with an abundance of thick, parsley-speckled frites. It's billed as a rib-eye, but the lean steak I sampled didn't much resemble one. The meat, cross-hatched with char, bore a welcome knob of tangy, herbed butter and was sufficiently tender, though cooked past the requested medium rare.

I still remember Figaro Bistro's cassoulet, a complex, thyme-scented bean stew harboring soft shards of duck confit, house-made garlic sausage and bacon lardons under a crust of buttered breadcrumbs. Probing Chloé's cassoulet, a shallow bowl of characterless beans rimmed with tomato-reddened oil, I unearthed a tough duck leg, gristly lamb and sausage. Breadcrumbs covered the top like thick sawdust and had been unevenly browned, as if Zorro had made his mark with a blowtorch.

I did find things I like. Mussels Provencale are delightful. Sporting sprigs of fresh thyme, the fetching mollusks are piled high in a garlicky, peppery broth chunky with tomato. Fried sage leaves nicely check the run-amok richness of mushroom-stuffed ravioli awash in butter and truffle oil.

Someone in the kitchen should have booted the lifeless lump of frisee on an otherwise lovely charcuterie plate composed of thinly sliced salami, smoked duck breast and a rustic, bacon-wrapped liver pate, along with pickled carrots, cornichon and a bowl of grainy mustard.

Onion soup is beefy, plenty oniony and not too cheese-heavy. Endive, walnut and blue cheese salad wore a vinaigrette lacking sufficient acid, but lemony crème fraîche was just right for petals of cold-smoked salmon cloaking fresh salad greens (minus the promised shaved fennel, which would have been a great addition to the mix.)

A piped ruffle of potato purée bristling with white pepper (so different from the listless side of mashed potatoes I'd had the week before) accompanied a juicy, balsamic-sauced grilled pork chop smothered in zesty, lime-mango chutney. The dish was not just wonderful; it managed to outclass the entrecote frites at a fraction of the price. Ironic, n'est-ce pas?

Providence Cicero: providencecicero@aol.com

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