At first bite: The French Inflection
In chain-heavy west valley, Oh La La embarks on an indie journey to France (with a layover in Little Italy)
The American idea of a good bistro is a place evocative of Julia Child’s kitchen: cozy and convivial, serving fare that’s satisfying but unpretentious (albeit extra generous with the butter and heavy cream). Oh La La French Bistro, now open in a quiet pocket of Summerlin, almost fits the bill. Waitstaff and management dote on guests, eager to create a warm dining experience, and a solid menu of familiar (mostly) French dishes makes it a promising addition to the neighborhood.
To start, there is classic steak tartare, minced fine and studded with capers, as well as proper escargots, each morsel resting in its own pool of garlic and parsley butter. If raw beef and baked snails don’t whet your appetite, try the pistachio-crusted goat cheese. An entire hockey puck of chèvre is baked in a porcelain crock until warm and spreadable. A dollop of confit onion jam and a drizzle of honey balance the tart grassiness of the cheese.
However, traditionalists may find fault with the La Lyonnaise salad. Lacy blonde leaves of frisée are properly bathed in a warm vinegar-spiked dressing and topped with a poached egg, but the traditional, chewy batons of salt-cured lardons are replaced with thin shards of ordinary breakfast bacon strips.
For entrees, a classic Bavette a l’eschalot (flank steak and fries) with a glass of red wine is always a reliable choice at a bistro or brasserie. I opted for its pescatarian cousin, moules mariniere (mussels and fries), which were fragrant with white wine and garlic. An order of lamb daube arrived in the form of gamey but succulent nuggets of meat, aggressively perfumed with rosemary.
Mussels and fries in white wine and garlic
There are also a few unexpected options. Perhaps a Francophobe would be won over by the hachis Parmentier, which is just a fancy way to say cottage pie. The casserole of ground beef, minced vegetables and fluffy mashed potato crust is the ultimate cold-weather comfort dish. Eggs mimosa is more reminiscent of a Midwest potluck than a dinner in Provence, but they’re a tasty shared snack nonetheless.
Oh La La is co-owned by Richard Terghazi, who oversees the dining room, while business partner Nicolas Sillac mans the fort at L’Osteria del Forno, the duo’s Italian restaurant in San Francisco. L'Osteria is located in the historically Italian-American neighborhood of North Beach, which could explain a few red sauce influences at the bistro. A complimentary basket of bread (lined with red-and-white checkered paper, of course) is not stuffed with slices of baguette but planks of focaccia. The lamb is served on a bed of boxed fettuccine. And the garlic on the mussels is applied with a heavy hand — mine tasted as if an entire bulb was chopped and strewn over the shells, raw.
But the overall flavor at Oh La La remains decidedly French. I don’t recall the last time I saw a small local restaurant cook something en papillote, or in parchment paper, as they do with a Cornish game hen. Furthering the French connection, the restaurant hosts special evenings to celebrate French wines. Locals are also encouraged to sample a limited lunchtime menu of classic sandwiches: pan bagnat (think Tuna nicoise salad between bread), merguez (a spicy North African lamb sausage) with mustard, and the typical Parisian ham/butter/pickle combo.
Oh La La receives high marks for attentive, considerate service, even if timing is a kink that needs ironing out. (“I’m sorry the starters didn’t arrive at the same time, but we want you to enjoy your salad while the poached egg is still warm,” advised my server.) On a recent visit, Terghazi greeted every guest with genuine gratitude for his or her patronage.
Oh La La also deserves credit for providing scratch-made food in a neighborhood that isn’t known for intimate mom-and-pops. Where another restaurant might overlook house-made desserts in favor of something outsourced, the kitchen offers three dead simple preparations: classic chocolate mousse, a luscious, eggy crème caramel and … tiramisu? There’s that North Beach flavor again. I’d prefer a tarte tatin or profiteroles, but perhaps I’m just being a stickler for authenticity. Better to take a cue from Ms. Child, who once said, “In cooking you’ve got to have a what-the-hell attitude.”
Oh la la
2120 N. Rampart Blvd. #150