Restaurant review: Alex's Bistro
In the restaurant biz, some establishments embrace the au courant while others stick with what they know and leave well enough alone. Alex's Bistro on Reed would be in the latter category -and that's a good thing.
Cooking old-school, crowd-pleasing French bistro classics for nearly two decades, Alex's is the kind of place you go to for pate, steak frites and seafood crepes. At Alex's, regulars "of a certain age" congregate in the charming little bar area joshing each other and deferring to the generous pouring of the bartender unanimously referred to as "Mary."
On its website, Alex's compares itself to that been-there-forever, extra-large Parisian brasserie named Bofinger. Well, I've been to Bofinger, and the tiny Alex's is no Bofinger - but, really, it's close enough for Columbus.
Alex's does possess a similar pretty checker-patterned tile floor like Bofinger's, plus it has plenty of comely art deco accents. And its music, which is channeled from an earlier era, is quaintly played on a sound system with a haunted, old-radio quality to it.
This nostalgia and love of classicism informs Alex's little menu, too. So get the Pate ($8) - it's housemade, sprinkled with peppercorns, eats lighter than you might think, and is a pretty great deal. About the size of a brick (expect richly delicious leftovers), it's served with cornichons, kalamatas and a little salad with a spicy dark mustard dressing.
Soups were also excellent, like a tart, not over-creamed tomato and basil ($4.50). I also enjoyed an enticingly acidic, real-deal caramelized French onion ($6) that didn't rely on overabundances of broiled cheese or broth beefiness for its fine character.
And Alex's got that bistro staple, Steak Frites ($19) right, as well. A medium-sized N.Y. strip arrived nicely grill-crusted and smeared with melting garlic butter. On the side were crispy-enough, hand-cut, no-bull French fries.
As good as that was, I liked the little but meaty lamb chops even better (Cotes d'Agneau grilles au Romarin, $26). Four lovely and juicy specimens were flaked with rosemary, redolent of thyme and perfectly grill-seared. Instead of mashed potatoes, I opted for the beautiful pommes dauphine (golden brown, ungreasy clumps of fried mashers) and the chef's vegetables (sweetened al dente carrot pieces plus expertly grilled asparagus) - and was glad I switched.
With their gurgling hot, broiled cheesy lobster sauce topping, the seafood crepes (Crepes Aux Fruits De Mer, $15) almost resembled a couple of enchiladas. The floppy, delicate and blonde crepes were wrapped around big chunks of salmon and smallish, if clean-tasting shrimp.
Another bistro classic - Tarte Tatin ($7) - was an easy-to-dispatch dessert. Gooey, deeply caramelized apples with a modest crust underneath were paired with vanilla ice cream for an excellent hot-n-cold sweet-spot meet up.
Like most of what Alex's offers, that's the kind of food that never goes out of fashion.
Alex's Bistro on Reed
4691 Reed Rd., Upper Arlington
Price: $$$ ($20-$40 per person)
Hours: 11:30 a.m.-2 p.m. and 5:30-10 p.m. Monday-Friday, 5:30-10 p.m. Saturday