Before Bistro was Bistro L'Escargot, it was the home of the Spaghetti Factory and then Alouette. Those who remember these places will find much in Bistro's atmosphere that is reminiscent of the past.
The long, narrow dining room has brick walls. In the rear stands the wood- fired brick oven, where the staff turns out breads and pizzas.
Escargots bourguignon ($8) is a popular and well-made dish. It's prepared in classic Burgundy style, gently simmered in a butter of garlic and parsley, and capable of drawing a timid diner out of his or her shell.
Mussels ($7.50) are done in a fresh tomato sauce, and lightly seasoned with basil, garlic and parsley.
Salads are fashioned with freshness in mind. The one called Bistro ($4.50) is big enough to share, with crisp, mixed greens as a foundation for tomato, onion, basil and pellets of goat cheese dressed in mild vinaigrette.
There are also a salad of mixed greens with bacon and garlic croutons ($3.95), and a simple house version ($3) of greens and tomatoes.
A number of pastas are available, and - like the salads - are large enough to be shared. The pesto-linguine ($9.95) had properly done pasta tossed in a decent pesto (pine nuts, basil and garlic pulverized in olive oil), which was a little gritty.
Other Bistro pastas include linguine in a tomato sauce lightened with cream and tossed with broccoli ($8.95), and pasta and tuna covered with a spicy tomato sauce ($9.95).
As an entree, the restaurant makes a good chicken chasseur ($11.95) whose sauce of white wine, mushrooms, onions and tomato, seasoned with rosemary and dotted with olives, came very close to the classic version. Other chicken dishes are coq au vin and chicken Marsala (both $11.95).
Beef bourguignon ($13.95) follows the classic Burgundy beef casserole. It's filled with carrots and onions in an herby red-wine sauce. There are two steak dishes - au poivre and Marsala (both $16.95) - and sea scallops flambeed in an anise-flavored liqueur with green peppercorns in a cream sauce ($12.95).
Pizzas come in two sizes, are made on bread-like shells, and are deliciously topped with such mixtures as ground lamb and beef with onion, garlic and peppers, or goat cheese, olives, roasted peppers and mozzarella (both $7 and $14.50).
There's a liquor license, something the restaurant didn't have in the early days of Bistro L'Escargot. The wine list is brief, but, like the restaurant's name, to the point. Desserts are rich and good.
528 S. Fifth St., 925-3335
Open: 5:30 to 10 p.m., Tuesdays through Thursdays; to midnight Fridays and Saturdays, and from 3:30 to 9 p.m. Sundays.
Price range: Entrees, $11.95 to $16.95; pastas, $8.50 to $9.95.
Credit cards: Major cards.
Nonsmoking section: No.
Facilities for handicapped: No.
Atmosphere: Warm, laid-back bistro.