Restaurant review: La Chatelaine French Bakery and Bistro

G.A. Benton, Columbus Alive

Enumerating the differences between modern-day Columbus and the city it was a quarter-century ago would be an onerous task. Listing the similarities would be a much simpler undertaking - and would include mentioning the splurge-worthy comfort food available at La Chatelaine French Bakery and Bistro, which turned 25 years old in April.

Three similar La Chatelaines now grace the area, but I exclusively visited the Upper Arlington original for this review. Frankly, little has changed there throughout the years, and that's not a bad thing.

The large and long space replete with wood and rustic, chalet-cum-farmhouse charm includes a small bar and popular patio. Francophile touches abound and French pop music usually plays. Some of this might strike you as hokey - like when servers greet patrons with a cheery "Bon jour" - but French is the native tongue of the Wielezynski family that still runs all three restaurants, so I'll say it's more endearing than corny.

A solid selection of beer, especially Belgian ales, and wine is available. A sensible choice from the grape-produced group is the house Cote du Rhone, ostensibly exclusive to La Chatelaine.

That food-friendly French red wine makes a nice match with the Spaghetti a la Gigi. Named after Gigi Wielezynski, the eponymous "chatelaine" ("la chatelaine" refers to the mistress of a chateau), it's pasta with a terrific meat sauce that tastes more like an authentic Italian Bolognese sauce than the Bolognese you get in most Italian restaurants.

Order this during lunch when La Chatelaine operates cafeteria-style and when the place's deservedly famous Croque Monsieur sandwich ($7) and wonderful Quiche Lorraine ($7) are freshly made, and the pasta will be $9. Order it at dinner and it'll be $13, but will come with a side, such as a creamy-but-nuanced Caesar salad with homemade croutons ($5.50 a la carte). A potential dinnertime downside: the pre-made salad might be a little wilted.

My favorite dinner dish is the excellent Cassoulet ($22). It's a rustic-yet-refined white bean casserole with deep, earthy flavors enhanced by a tender leg of duck confit and a plump, homemade pork sausage. Wine, herbs and toasted bread crumbs lighten the French countryside classic.

For something much lighter, try the Salmon and Green Peppercorn Sauce ($19). A tender, juicy and nice-sized fillet rests atop crispy blocks of scene-stealing, dark golden-brown potatoes. Scattered about this center are colorful blanched strips of squash, carrot and bell pepper. Generously dotting the plate is the more-creamy-than-zingy namesake sauce.

For something really light, try the somewhat unwieldy but pleasant Paris Flamekush ($9). La Chatelaine's flamekushes are paper-thin flatbreads; the all-veggie Paris variant is sauced with a lemony, slightly creamy base abundantly topped with a veritable salad that includes cucumbers, tomatoes, peppers, spinach, onions and Kalamata olives.

A relatively new menu option is the Ohio Beef Short Rib Indochine sandwich ($13; pair it with crisp fries for another $1.75). With jus-drenched, flavorful pot roast-type meat, mayo, cilantro plus vinegar-kissed cucumber and carrots on a homemade baguette, it's a "Frenchified" Vietnamese-style banh mi without chilies or fish sauce. In other words, it's a rich and non-spicy "meta" version of a fusion concoction developed long ago through the cultural interactions of France and Vietnam. Don't think about that too long, just eat the sandwich.

And don't leave without indulging in some great bakery treats (most are $4.50). Because, from buttery cookies and carefully crafted eclairs to flaky tarts bound to glazed fruit by custardy pastry cream to the light and lovely La Chatelaine signature chocolate cake (chocolate ganache tops three layers of chocolate genoise filled with fluffy chocolate mousse), they taste as good as they look.

Here's hoping they'll still be available here in another 25 years.

La Chatelaine French Bakery and Bistro

1550 W. Lane Ave., Upper Arlington