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Oliver Bon Dinant: Old−time French charm

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We remember a time when intimate, classic French restaurants were commonplace around New York City, especially in the theater district, but in many other neighborhoods as well. Back in the days when Thai cuisine was unknown to anyone except Thais, Italian meant spaghetti and meatballs, and Chinese was proffered in long lean establishments with booths and menus urging choices from columns A & B, French food was regarded, and rightly so, as a cut above. Who could have predicted that someday every neighborhood would have its own Thai eatery, but that French restaurants would become an endangered species?

French restaurants of recent vintage are not what we’re talking about. Creativity is a good thing, and there’s nothing wrong with fusion, but we don’t always want to find lemongrass and shiitake mushrooms cohabiting with our foie gras. We are nostalgic for circumspect portions of obscenely rich food.

We got a hot tip from a friend that Oliver Bon Dinant was just the type of classic French bistro we were longing for. It is a small place that relies on white lace cafÉ curtains in the windows to announce its intentions. There isn’t much else in terms of interior decoration, but the aroma of garlic and butter and strains of Piaf compensate for the lack of visual amenities.

The menu reads like a catalogue of the greatest hits of French cuisine. Pate! Escargot! Onion soup! Frogs’ legs! Coq au vin! Bouillabasse! Just about every French classic you can think of is represented here. Kind of retro, but ooh la la.

Our repast began auspiciously with a complimentary amuse bouche — a trÈs petite pancake topped with a postage stamp of smoked salmon with a squirt of crÈme fraiche. A delicious harbinger of things to come.

The escargot de Bourgogne were garlicky to the max with shallots, tomato, and a touch of Pernod for added interest. Snails don’t taste like much of anything in themselves, so the dish is all about the garlic butter, which it would be criminal not to mop up with a little bread.

Deviating briefly from our Francophilia, we ordered a Caesar salad, an Italian dish whose origins can be traced to a restaurant in Mexico. Instead of the anticipated mound of dressed greens, we were presented with a work of art almost too pretty to eat. The greens and Parmesan had been carefully cut into diamond shapes and placed in a row on the plate along with scribbles of dressing. The taste was first−rate, and the presentation was memorable.

Bouillabasse de Marseille is made here with Gulf shrimp, Maine sea scallops and seafood sausage. It is served in the traditional manner with rouille, a rich condiment made from olive oil, breadcrumbs, garlic, saffron, chili peppers and garlic croutons. The broth was fragrant, if a bit overly salty, and the seafood, while not overly abundant, was of excellent quality.

Steak and pommes frittes was another classic. The steak in question was hanger steak, chosen from the prix fixe menu. The staff is thankfully clairvoyant, because even though they didn’t ask, our beef was delivered charred on the outside and bright red in the middle, just the way we like it.

Oliver Bon Dinant offers a prix fixe menu that gives good value and an admirable selection of choices, but we have a more devious reason for choosing the prix fixe. It absolves us of the guilt of ordering dessert, since it’s included. We indulged in ice−crea­m−filled and chocolate­sauce−­topped profiteroles, those luscious cream−puff type pastries. It was the only item we ordered that came super−sized, and we gobbled up every bit.

The Bottom Line

If you have fond memories of those little French places of days of yore or your trip to Paris, or just want to indulge in a well−prepared, rich meal, Oliver Bon Dinant is the place to do it. Check their Web site for a coupon good for a free glass of Bordeaux. C’est si bon!

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 qnsfoodie@aol.com.

Oliver Bon Dinant

82 Hillside Ave.

Williston Park, NY

516−747−6337

Oliverbondinant.com

Cuisine: French

Setting: Underdecorated but comfortable

Service: Professional, efficient

Hours: Lunch & dinner Tuesdays­−Sundays

Reservations: Recommended on weekends

Alcohol: Wine & Beer

Parking: Street

Dress: Casual

Children: No menu

Music: Recorded

Takeout: Yes

Credit cards: Yes

Noise level: Acceptable

Handicap accessible: Yes

A SAMPLE FROM THE MENU

Prix Fix (appetizer, main course & dessert):

Dinner (except Saturday) … $28.50

Lunch (except Sunday) … $20.08

Escargot … $8

Salade de Caesar … $8

Bouillabaisse … $28

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