Bistro Rollin Review
A welcoming neighborhood eatery you’ll want to return to (hint: always save room for dessert).
A warm and inviting interior has diners coming back for more.
It is the right time for a restaurant like Bistro Rollin. Aren’t we all craving a warm and welcoming neighborhood place with familiar but urbane food, priced high enough to make us appreciate it and low enough that we can visit often enough to be remembered when we walk in?
The name of the restaurant is an homage to the street in the 5th Arrondissement on which owners Barbara and Arthur Bratone briefly lived, and the menu is classic Parisian bistro. And like so many Parisian bistros, the service here can be spotty—although at Bistro Rollin, it is always eager, pleasant, and well-intentioned. In fact, on one visit, when our server noted that, after some delay, we had not yet been served our first course, he apologized and scurried off in pursuit of both the missing food and the front manager, who, in turn, immediately offered to buy us drinks.
As it turned out, the appetizers were worth the wait. Buttery, garlicky escargots were served in pools of the rich, Pernod-napped sauce—pools that made perfect little dipping cups for bread once the meaty little critters had been downed. At the opposite end of the spectrum was the equally delicious, appropriately spare tuna tartare. This dish, made poorly at far too many restaurants, owes its survival to renditions like this one. Cleanly cut and (thankfully!) sinew-free, diced tuna melded with a sprinkling of capers and a splash of sherry vinegar in harmonic balance.
In truth, there are two iconic bistro dishes, which, for us, separate the authentic bistros from the imitators: roast chicken and frisée salad. The golden brown, crisp-skinned half chicken was just a bite or two away from ideal: the leg and thigh were succulent and flavorful, and we loved the mushrooms and pearl onions sautéed with bacon and potatoes, but even with the rich jus, the breast was a little dry. We sampled the frisée salad twice: the first time, the yolk in the poached egg was too firm to dress the greens and the actual dressing overly acidic. But the lardons, the tiny croutons, and a gut instinct urged us to try it again and, on the second try, the salad was perfect. The egg was creamy and ran all over the frisée when cut. The now well-balanced dressing was just acidic enough to play off the yolk and bitter frisée.
The iconic frisée salad with lardons and poached egg is superb at Bistro Rollin
Moules frites is served with a choice of Provençal, white wine, or curry broth: we loved the plump, tender mussels in Provençal broth and were thrilled by the cone of crisp fries served with horseradish mayonnaise. Those same crisp, generously salted fries were served with perfectly cooked, robustly flavorful hanger steak. Roast cod was the one dish that was truly disappointing. Cod is not a fish to eat while it’s still translucent; it is not a matter of taste or preference, but health. When we asked that the fish be cooked through, the server graciously obliged. The returned fillet, while thoroughly cooked, was bland, and a poorly balanced lemon-butter sauce served on the plate was no improvement.
We found salvation in desserts. The creamy, smooth, and rich crème caramel had just that touch of bitterness in the caramel that gives this dish its sophisticated edge and the dark chocolate Marquise was heady enough for avowed chocoholics but tame enough to appeal to the rest of the world. A lemon tart also went just far enough: the puckery acidity gave this dessert its grown-up bearing, but it was sweet enough to make it oh-so-easy to eat.
We’re going back to Bistro Rollin, and we’ll order that cod again, just to see. It was the only seriously flawed dish out of all we tried, and we’re treating it as a fluke (pun unintended). We like the feel of the place, and the food, and we don’t mind a little bumbling in the service now and then: all that adds up to a very human, very comfortable place in the ’hood…exactly what a bistro should be.
Bistro Rollin ★★★
142 Fifth Ave, Pelham
Hours: lunch, Tues to Sat 11:30 am–2 pm; dinner Tues to Thurs 5:30 pm–9:30 pm, Fri and Sat 5:30 pm–10:30 pm; brunch Sun 11 am–3 pm. Appetizers: $10-$13; entrées: $15-$28; desserts: $8-$10.
★★★★—Outstanding ★★★—Very Good
Photos by Cathy Pinsky