Blue Dahlia Bistro1115 E. 11th, 542-9542
The Blue Dahlia is a 1946 Raymond Chandler film noir probably best remembered for the presence of Veronica Lake, she of the vampy peekaboo hairstyle. I don't know what the connection might be, but the Blue Dahlia Bistro has established a sexy little presence of its own – a bit French but mostly Austin – in the entertainment/business corridor developing along East 11th.
Replacing the archly hip Dandelion Cafe, the Blue Dahlia simultaneously manages to be sleekly cool and warmly welcoming, with beautifully polished plank tables, soft lighting (even during the day), tiny artful table arrangements, and a charming enclosed patio, lush with plants.
I'm no longer sure just what bistro means, but in this case it means a casual place to drop in, alone or with friends, for a specialty coffee, a pastry, and – except for a daily soup ($3.95) and a frittata ($5.25) – food that isn't "cooked," such as platters of cheeses and cold meats, salads, and open-faced French sandwiches called tartines.
There are 11 tartines offered ($6.25-7.95), and each one I've tried has been a simple but inspired combination of generous portions on very fresh bread (from Mandola's Italian Market) cut into manageable rectangles and beautifully presented on a rustic wooden platter. Chicken salad is paired with pine nuts, dried cranberries, and pesto. Thinly sliced rare-ish roast beef is nicely dressed with Dijon crème fraîche and capers. Brie comes with walnuts and apricot preserves, and the ricotta with figs, agave syrup, and black pepper is lovely. You get the idea.
The meal-portioned salads ($5.95-8.95) are served with a variety of Mandola's breads, and most have plenty of protein-rich components (garbanzos, shrimp and avocado, various cheeses, tuna or egg salads). While I have nothing against mesclun, it is used for five of the six salads, as well as garnish for the tartines and spécialité platters. I'd love to see some other locally grown fresh greens used; not only would the salads be more interesting, but they would fit nicely with the menu's admirable "Le Mission de Blue Dahlia," which addresses organic, local, environmental, and community support.
Continental-style breakfast (nothing over $5.95) is available all day, including croissants, pastries, brownies, sliced meats and cheeses, assorted breads and spreads, yogurts, and soft-boiled eggs. On my last visit, there were four desserts ($4.95) offered, all rife with butter and cream (not that there's anything wrong with that). The cream-filled berry tart on shortbread crust and the three-layered mousse were tasty but unexciting, nothing I'd walk a mile for (although I would for a tarte tatin or a pot du crème).
There's a variety of coffee drinks and nonalcoholic beverages. On a really hot day, I fell in love with the Fresh-Squeezed Muddled-Mint Lemonade ($2.95), although the pomegranate lemonade is almost as good. A solid selection of draft and bottled beers is available, mostly premium (with happy-hour prices from 4 to 7pm, Monday through Friday), and you can choose from a short list of wines ($6/glass, $18.95/bottle). Just two of the eight wines are French, and none is local; the rest range from Chile to California. – MM Pack