Bistro Vendome

Under the command of chef Eric Roeder, Bistro Vendome did some French dishes better than any other place in town: steak frites, sauces of all description. But brunch was always the best reason for visiting Vendome, and even though Roeder is gone and the restaurant is now firmly in the hands of chef Jennifer Jasinski and manager Beth Gruitch-Verucchi (yes, the same team that owns and operates Rioja across the street), brunch here remains a thing of beauty.

To start with, the space itself is a beauty: Bistro Vendome holds down what I believe is one of the best -- if not the best -- locations in the city. Tucked away in a semi-private courtyard just off the hustle and bustle of Larimer Square, Vendome is like a hideaway, a secret garden just ten steps off the main drag. In the summer, there's a great patio filled with flowers. In December, there are cold sculptures and Santa outside, while the inside warmth steams up the windows of the small bistro. But beyond that is the beauty of the food. On a recent Saturday, I had good croissant, gallons of excellent French press coffee, and lacy crepes stuffed with shrimp and cream cheese, topped with a shrimp sauce fatted with avocado. The frites were different from Roeder's and not as good -- thick-cut, herbed, salty and glazed with sugar syrup. But the service was excellent, with the crowds in the dining room ebbing and flowing as late morning turned to late afternoon.

After my experiences at Brasserie Ten Ten, though, what I appreciate the most about Bistro Vendome is its unabashed French-ness. The kitchen clearly makes no attempt to dodge or shortcut the canon; there's rabbit sausage in the cassoulet, Pernod along with the striped bass and mussels in the loup de rivière, and sweet wine poured over the moules. This is an honest attempt at re-creating the Left Bank bistro cuisine of Paris -- and as a snob and a jerk and a classicist, I love it.

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