By Suzanne Parker
The first time we sought and found Bliss on Skillman Avenue in Sunnyside was in 2005. We enthused over its well-executed and creative New American offerings. Not so long after our accolades, there was a parting of the ways between business partner and chef, and the restaurant entered what we heard was a dark period.
It was sold in 2007 to Alim Maruf, formerly of Park Bistro in Manhattan. He changed the name from “Bliss” to “Bliss Bistro” and morphed the menu into a contemporary riff on French bistro fare. The countrified décor of whitewashed walls and peaked ceiling accented with natural wood essentially stayed the same, with only a change in the artwork, a series of vintage photos of old Sunnyside, on display.
In balmier weather than we having right now, there’s a charming garden for al fresco dining. We’ve heard nothing but good things about this new incarnation, and figured it was about time we returned.
Our first glance at the menu impressed us with how reasonable the prices were. None of the entrees exceeded $20 and most were in the mid-teens. On weekdays there is a $23 prix fixe that includes an appetizer, entrée and dessert that helps you to stretch your dollars even further.
The wine list was less impressive. The least expensive wine was about $30. Although it was billed as a chardonnay, it wasn’t a chardonnay at all. Most of the other bottles topped the $40 mark. The wine list provided no vintage dates or producers for most of its offerings.
We began with Crevettes grilles—plump juicy shrimp grilled in a balsamic vinaigrette served with chunky guacamole. Good start. Sauteed calamari with a tomato and onion sauce were lightly fried to a delicate texture. Nice. The escargot, on the other hand, were a disappointment. Served in a pan designed for that purpose, as opposed to their shells, they were overdone and not garlicky enough.
Magrets de canard au vin de porto — roasted duck breast served with puréed fresh sweet peas, sautéed potatoes and port wine sauce — was the most memorable of the entrees. The grilled hanger steak, slathered with garlic butter and served with hefty fries and a vegetable medley, relies too heavily on indiscriminate use of butter for flavor. Coq au vin, the classic chicken stew with bacon and mushrooms, is homey but as satisfying as if you had a French grand-mère in the kitchen.
If the sky’s your limit, calorically speaking, don’t leave without trying either their molten chocolate cake with vanilla ice cream or their profiteroles.
We returned for Sunday brunch. Their brunch menu is heavily weighted towards egg dishes. Their version of eggs Benedict replaces the traditional Canadian bacon with paper thin slices of what the menu describes as “Parisian ham,” and not to good effect. The Parisian ham tastes like very ordinary ham and there isn’t very much of it because of the way it’s sliced. Omelette à l’écossaise replaces the ham/Canadian bacon altogether with Scottish smoked salmon, an improvement over the Parisian ham.
As is a problem with so many Queens establishments, their wait staff is not well trained. Getting our first drink was a drawn-out affair. On a less than busy evening, they cleared and set tables when we needed attention. They removed our plates while leaving the crumbs and debris we created untouched in front of us.
The Bottom Line
Bliss is a decent option for Sunnyside folks looking for a pleasant, unchallenging dining experience. Their cooking is solid, if sometimes less than inspired. If you resist the beverages, the menu offers good value.
Suzanne Parker is the TimesLedger’s restaurant critic and author of “Eating Like Queens: A Guide to Ethnic Dining in America’s Melting Pot, Queens, N.Y.” She can be reached by e-mail at [email protected].
45-20 Skillman Ave.
Price Range: Appetizers: $5-8, Entrees: $15-20
Cuisine: French Bistro
Setting: County charm
Hours: Dinner from 5 p.m. Monday-Sunday; Sunday brunch
Alcohol: Full bar
Credit Cards: Yes
Noise Level: Acceptable
Handicap Accessible: Yes