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Bistro Fair

[whitespace] L'Amie Donia
Christopher Gardner

Menu, Menu, on the Wall: The bill of fare forms part of the decor at L'Amie Donia.

The relentlessly stylish bistro that Donia Bijan built continues to attract grateful gastronomes

By Christina Waters

THE MENU practically brought a tear to Rosemary's eye. "I haven't seen duck livers and beef tongue salad on a menu since I was in France," she murmured, surveying the late winter dinner offerings at L'Amie Donia. And in a way she was in France, whose seasonal bistro cuisine continually inspires and finds inspiration in the hands of Donia Bijan, one of several white-clad chefs working the exhibition kitchen last week. With its fields of white-linened banquette seating, pale green wainscoting and sunny yellow ceilings, this smart dining room has changed little since its opening day. It worked then, and still does.

Our waiter, also French, happily deciphered the night's $26 prix fixe of fennel and grapefruit salad, braised lamb shank with white beans and crème brûlée. Well, that sounded wonderful enough, so we ordered a portion, as well as an entree of lobster done two ways ($24), in a bisque and in a salad. Cauliflower soup ($4.50) and those duck livers with warm cranberry and apple salad ($9.50) would do nicely, merci beaucoup.

"Now, this is a real antidote to buttery chardonnay," noted Rosemary of her crisp Thomas Fogarty Gewurztraminer 1996 ($4.50), a goblet brimming with violets and citrus. I smiled over my glass of Chateau Haut-Plantey St. Emilion 1993. L'Amie Donia boasts an eclectic wine list that includes fine fare from France, as well as rarities from top Santa Barbara, Monterey and Carneros vineyards. I'd like to designate a driver some night and just come here to taste wines.

The cauliflower soup, a simple purée infused with butter and a hint of cumin, was impeccable. The salad, a flirtatious pyramid of tiny lettuces and shaved fennel, looked gorgeous. Thumbnail segments of pink grapefruit formed a necklace around the central greens, which needed either more detectable vinegar in the dressing or a few more citrus sections for ultimate glory.

The tender duck livers were glorious, musky sweet and accompanied by apples, sun-dried cranberries and arugula. A splendid salad, from concept to execution.

Switching wines to a vibrant Rafanelli Dry Creek Valley zin 1995 ($6.75) and a supple Ramsay Pinot Noir 1996 Carneros ($6), we greeted our entrees. Rosemary's joint of lamb sat on a pool of herb-inflected cannellini beans and was topped with roasted red and yellow peppers--the entire affair a knockout of brasserie consciousness. My lobster arrived in two installments. The first--a saffron and tomato lobster bisque--concealed two enormous lobster-stuffed raviolis in its depths and a pungent dice of parsley and garlic. The second part of this special was a huge and colorful salad of the lobster body and claw, on the half shell, atop endive and spinach that had been dotted with segments of blood orange and grapefruit. A heroic helping, it almost reached perfection, save for some chewiness in the lobster body. The claw, however, was celestial.

Since you're forced to confront the evening's desserts en route to the restrooms, it's almost impossible not to order a sweet finish. Rosemary prounounced her crème brûlée "incredibly good." I'd ordered a warm tarte tatin ($6), which proved to be more apple-intensive than necessary. I prefer a traditional tatin where the caramelized crust enjoys equal time with the spiced apples. Still, it had marvelous flavor and came with a scoop of opulent vanilla ice cream.

The espressos, served like everything else with a warm smile, were the perfect finish. In my next life, I will dine at L'Amie Donia five nights a week. Maybe six.

L'Amie Donia
Cuisine: French brasserie/bistro classics
Chef: Donia Bijan
Entrees: $14-$24
Hours: Dinner only 5:30-10pm (Friday-Saturday until 10:30pm)
Address: 530 Bryant St., Palo Alto
Phone: 650/323-7614

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From the March 26-April 1, 1998 issue of Metro.

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