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Bistro 1689

Noe Valley Newcomer

Noe Valley locals have a new dinner spot in Bistro 1689, which opened its doors in July 2006 on 1689 Church Street in the space that was the Long Island Chinese Restaurant. Joining restaurants like Incanto, Fresca, and La Ciccia as well as the new Pescheria, this 45-seat bistro is quickly making a name for itself in the neighborhood. With fresh, Bay Area ingredients prepared in a rustic, French style and a well-priced wine list, Bistro 1689 has a textbook recipe for success.

Pull back the curtains as you enter, and the glitzy artwork will catch your eye. Mustard-colored walls are adorned with pieces painted by local artist Renee Garcia, Jr. as well as well-placed oversized mirrors that create the illusion of a bigger space. Banquettes line one side, while separate tables and a tiny bar line the opposite side. The décor is the vision of owner Benny Cheung, who hails from a restaurant family that owns eateries in Hong Kong and Shanghai. This being his first endeavor, he teamed up with Chef Scott Drozd from Anzu in the Hotel Nikko.

While some of the dishes were hits, there were a few misses. On a late summer visit, we began with three appetizers; the standout being the summer corn veloute ($9), a creamy corn soup with king oyster mushrooms and Dungeness crab. The crispy goat cheese-stuffed squash blossoms ($8) had too much fried batter which weighed down what ought to be a light starter and gave the goat cheese an odd, oozy consistency. The tiny accompanying salad of shaved fennel, olives, orange wedges, and watercress was a good touch but the serving could've been bigger to balance out the heavy blossoms. Finally, we had high hopes for the Capay Farms heirloom tomato salad ($8), but it seemed as if tomatoes and peaches were sliced and thrown on a plate, as the dressing didn't have enough punch to pull together the flavors of the sweet grilled peaches and the meaty tomatoes.

With about a half-dozen entrees on the menu and two specials, the menu ran the gamut from Niman Ranch short ribs ($20) and roasted duck breast ($20) to locally caught ling cod ($19) and a wild mushroom ragout ($17). Curious about the "hen of the wood mushrooms," we opted for the lavender-honey glazed chicken ($17) sprinkled with fleur de sel and stacked precariously atop artichokes and the aforementioned mushrooms. The chicken was tender and the lavender added a unique flavor. Unfortunately, there was too much parsley on the plate that if not avoided would overpower the subtlety of the lavender. Our other entrée was the night's special fish stew ($17), which had a tasty tomato-based broth and a diverse array of seafood. The only trouble was that the bowl was the same size as our veloute starter, which is way too small for a hearty dinner stew.

For dessert (all $8), our first pick was the plum tart. It was a solid winner with fresh plums accompanied by a goat cheese and ricotta mousse under a layer of thyme streusel with olive oil and honey drizzled on top. It was perfectly not too sweet. Our only comment would be to add a dollop of ice cream or gelato to make it a little less dry. The other dessert we sampled was the chocolate hazelnut cake, which also did not disappoint. A small but rich and warm cake was placed on one side of the plate with homemade brown sugar ice cream on the other.

The wine list was well priced and covered the basics, with the majority of bottles in the $20 range (which accounted for why every table seemed to have a bottle). About 50 wines were on the list that included the obvious regions from California and Argentina to France and Spain.

Service was not as precise as at many other area restaurants, but it was cheerful. On the night of our visit, most of the tables were full and there was only one main waiter, a host, and a busser. Minor issues included: not having enough menus, needing to be reminded about previous requests, and not coordinating the timing of dishes and drinks. Hopefully these discrepancies merely reflect a place that's settling into its skin.

While this bistro with French influences and California style has great potential, it isn't quite there yet. That said it is a well-priced, charming local restaurant worthy of a try.

French/Rustic Californian
Noe Valley

Reservations essential? No