By Suzanne Parker
One thing that every neighborhood needs is an upscale restaurant suitable for wooing a client or celebrating a milestone.
It should be a place where you feel cossetted in an attractive space with attentive service.
A liquor license is essential.
It shouldn’t be overly trendy or push the bounds of adventurous cuisine. A place where you can relax comfortably over a meal or drinks.
Aperitif Bayside Bistro-Lounge-Bar on 39th Avenue is trying to fill that niche with some degree of success.
It is the latest iteration of a mini-dining empire whose roster includes Aperitif in Rockville Centre, Sage Bistro in Bellmore, Persil Restaurant in Oceanside and Sage Bistro Moderne in Woodbury. It goes for that sweet spot that could be called casual fine dining. Smartly appointed without being stuffy.
Service here is worthy of note.
It could be the product of Aperitif’s overall high standards, or it could be the excellence of our server, Jason. We have no way of telling. Jason was friendly and charming, patient with our numerous questions, and always there when we needed him. It wouldn’t hurt to ask for one of his tables.
The alcoholic offerings here are also worthy of note.
They have an extensive list of wines by the glass, a variety of “flights” of triple 3-ounce samplings, and some interesting craft brews on tap, all making for some fine sipping and noshing. They also have an admirable selection of bottles at all price points. Wine expert Harriet Lembeck of Harriet Lembeck Wine and Spirits Program, who was our dining companion that evening, made that pronouncement as well as spotting us a wonderful bottle of 2013 Chateau Fage Graves for a mere $36.
The menu is broken into many subcategories, making it easy to find something appealing whether you’re snacking and sipping, or seeking a multi-course dinner. Since we were obviously going for the works, Jason recommended an appetizer he assured us would be “life changing:” pistachio crusted scallops. While our life is depressingly the same, those scallops were exceptionally delicious. Three hefty, succulent ocean scallops were crusted as noted, and resting on dollops of apple parsnip puree embellished with streaks of spinach and horseradish-beet emulsions. The complex interplay between flavors and textures was memorable, and perhaps the high point of the meal.
An appetizer special, crab cakes, little balls actually, fell somewhere on the spectrum between spongy and rubbery, with no noticeable crab. Thin-crust seared tuna mini pizza with avocado, green onions, bell and jalapeno peppers was an enigma. Was the crust supposed to be crisp or pliable? Was it warm or cold? The quality of the sushi-like seared tuna was good, but the most predominant flavor was the slightly spicy mayo that spiraled over the top of everything. We know that they eat sushi pizza in Japan, but calling this pizza is a stretch. Not everything perched on a round of baked wheat merits the name.
Of the mains, the standout was the fricassee of scallops and shrimp. It featured the same luscious scallops as our appetizer, along with equally juicy shrimp, sautéed leeks and butternut squash purée with truffle cream sauce. The combination of flavors harmonized perfectly.
Petit filet mignon au poivre, a 6-ounce filet, with potato au gratin, string beans, green peppercorn sauce was medium rare as ordered and competently prepared to please any traditionalist.
Our biggest disappointment was also the most expensive, although, to be fair, could easily be shared. We had high hopes for the pistachio crusted rack of lamb. It was offered with a potato and Roquefort tart, sautéed spinach, and sauced with rosemary au jus. The rack was ordered medium rare to rare, and arrived medium, bordering on well done at either end. The so-called “au jus” was more like the flour thickened lamb gravy that old school restaurants would slop over leg of lamb. The potato Roquefort tart was cute to behold, but the cheese was too sharp and overwhelmed everything.
Desserts, enthusiastically endorsed by Jason, were worth every calorie. We indulged in a marvelous éclair, and pomegranate puree panna cotta.
The Bottom Line
Aperitif Bistro is a welcome asset to Bayside. Its pleasing atmosphere makes it a comfortable place to dine, wine, or both. We think we could have avoided disappointments if we had just let Jason tell us what to order.
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 qnsfo
Aperitif Bayside Bistro-Lounge-Bar
213-41 39th Ave.
Price Range: Appetizers: $9-16, Mains: $19-31
Cuisine: French inflected New American
Setting: Well decorated and comfortable
Hours: Lunch and Dinner daily, Sunday brunch.
Reservations: Recommended on weekends
Alcohol: Full bar
Dress: Casual to dressy
Credit cards: Yes
Noise level: Acceptable
Handicap accessible: Yes