Pleasant Dining In A European-style Bistro

Posted: January 31, 1993

Ever since it opened a year ago, I have heard good things about Main Street, the European-style bistro in the Princeton Shopping Center. Curiosity finally got the upper hand, and I went for a visit.

I only wish I had gone sooner, for Main Street is an attractive, friendly place with excellent food that shows both originality and high accomplishment.

The menu defines a bistro as a bustling "neighborhood restaurant . . . where folks chat happily across the room while pleasant waiters duck between the closely spaced tables." That's absolutely true at Main Street.

Bistro cuisine is described as an adventure in "unpretentious dining" where "the best and freshest ingredients . . . (are) prepared from scratch, resulting in uncomplicated, full-flavored dishes," an accurate description here.

"Wine and home-baked, crusty breads are essential to a good bistro meal," the menu adds; Main Street again meets its goal.

Raclette ($6.50), the marvelous Swiss appetizer that was a January special, rivaled the best I have had in Switzerland.

The small dish brought melted cheese with the same wonderfully grainy texture and flavor of bagnes, the cheese used by the Swiss. The cheese was poured over firm potatoes, garnished with a cornichon and three pearl onions, and served with three thick slices of homemade pumpernickel.

Con queso dip ($5.95), equally pleasant, was a cold, slightly spicy appetizer of silken avocado puree topped with cream, grated cheese and chopped chilies, tomatoes and scallions; it came with both corn and blue corn chips.

Seldom-found ribolitta ($5.75), the hearty Tuscan vegetable-bean soup, was splendid, a robust soup thick with carrots, potatoes, celery, spinach, tomatoes, onions and cannellini beans piled on crusty grilled country bread. A side order of homemade country breads ($2.50) brought a wicker basket of sourdough, focaccia, pumpernickel, six-grain and rosemary-raisin delights.

Main courses were excellent. Ancho chili-grilled shrimp ($14.95) were five medium-sized shrimp, blackened with spicy chilies and perfectly grilled to retain their natural flavors and texture. The dish included a fried pattie of mashed black beans topped with sour cream and a spritz of tomato salsa - chopped tomatoes, red onions and a hint of cilantro.

From the menu's "light side," grilled chicken and feta ($7.95) were grilled chicken fingers generously sprinkled with crumbled Greek cheese that seemed creamier and less-salty than usual, bedded on soft lettuce and radicchio and lightly touched with an excellent balsamic vinaigrette.

As you might expect, desserts ($4.25) were not slighted.

Hot apple crisp made with wonderfully tart, firm Granny Smith apples piquant with lemon flavors, was topped with a crunchy-crisp, crumbed topping; a side cup of unsweetened whipped cream was the real thing, not something out of an aerosol can.

Creme brulee was luscious custard with a crisp, unusually sugary but slightly bitter carmelized topping.

A January wine special was a soft, fruity French red (Chateau Donna Baissas

from the Cotes du Rhone) for $9.95, a perfect complement to the moderately spicy cuisine.

Service was friendly, informed and attentive, but my waiter had to hustle to keep up with dishes that came almost instantly from the open kitchen-grill.

A fireplace burning real logs warmed the dining room. Peach walls with dark green wainscoting are decorated with black-and-white personality photos (Alfred Hitchcock, Salvadore Dali) and Parisian scenes.

A green wall alongside stairs to the wine cellar displays enormous posters of antique French cars - a Citroen, Peugeot and Chenard & Walcker.

Tables with colorful tablecloths under glass are set with white paper napkins with the bistro's logo, bistro-style chairs and bottles of Italian sparkling water and the red table wine.

Reservations are not accepted for fewer than six persons.

MAIN STREET

Princeton Shopping Center, North Harrison Street, Princeton, 921-2779

Open: Lunch 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m. Mon.-Sat.; dinner 5:30-9 p.m. Mon.-Thurs., until 10 p.m. Fri. & Sat., 5-8 p.m. Sun.; brunch 10:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m. Sun.

Price range: Appetizers average $6, entrees $13

Credit cards: Visa, MasterCard

Nonsmoking section: Entire restaurant is no smoking

Facilities for handicapped: Yes

Atmosphere: Pleasant and informal

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