February 10, 2004
When Basalt locals heard that a French restaurant (!) was replacing their landmark Midland Bar & Grill back in 1991, the response was less than unanimous affection and some argued it was the horrible end of an era.These days, the Bistro Basalt has become a tradition of its own and many locals would now argue that the Midland’s closing was also the beginning of something.The community bar was replaced by one of the valley’s clean, well-lighted places, which features a bar that’s become a meeting place of its own. Art on the red brick walls is definitely not the industrial landscapes you might expect for most restaurants, but instead rivals that of many galleries.Even though Midland fans still mourn its passing (especially those who attended the last-night bash, who can be seen staring longingly at the etched-glass Midland sign in back of the bistro), the Bistro Basalt is among several midvalley restaurants earning strong local support. It keeps in-season hours nearly all year long and it’s become one of those places you can take out of town friends to convince them the quaint little valley neighborhoods are actually quite sophisticated.And you can offer to pick up the check without worrying they’ll call your bluff.On a recent excursion, we went for the Poulet Marsala, which translates to chicken with mushrooms and marsala wine sauce ($12.95). You can get into long, detailed arguments about which dinner selection gets “best in the house” status, but the Poulet Marsala is up there with the best of them and the presentation never ceases to impress. Another front-runner is the Filet Mignon ($16.95) that’s the most expensive menu item. And the ghost of the Midland probably walks past the Cote de Boeuf, a 20 ounce grilled cowboy steak ($21.95).
For fun we added the Western Pizza ($11) from the nine-pie list. The Bistro uses a wood-fired oven and the pizza is both delicious and large enough for two people to have for a relatively light dinner. We’ve ordered them the way others might order hot wings.The best hors d’oeuvres is another debate, but a good bet is the deep fried calamare ($6.95). You can trust the house wines and after dinner try a Liquid Cocaine or a Belfast Bomber shot, which sometimes comes with an odd story about some Irish lads, leaving the olde country in a hurry and developing not-so-subtle drink names.Unless you simply dislike the French style, the Bistro Basalt is probably one of the valley’s top eight or ten all-around eateries — certainly it’s in the top ten of the places you’d eat regularly. And the atmosphere has evolved into a nice cross between an elegant locals’ bar and a restaurant that would impress your parent’s banker.Lunch is also a good bet, with five different egg dishes served and a good selection of sandwiches (including burgers) and pastas. Prices range from the $5.75 neighborhood to around $8. The onion soup, as good as you think it might be in a French restaurant, is $4 and you won’t regret trying it with a sandwich. Seven salads are on the lunch menu.They take cash, VISA, American Express and local checks with a driver’s license. And, yes, they will once again be the frequent venue for catching Sommers & Biff, the musical duo that has to be the hardest working act in the valley. Friday nights are not a sure thing, but that’s when the S&B usually play.