Soups are a good way to start. Onion soup topped with a fragrant blanket of Gruyere ($4.50) is always available; the smooth lobster bisque ($4.50), a special one night, was even better.
Consider sharing the oversized salads and starters. The antipasto plate ($6) is a pretty wheel of grilled eggplant and zucchini slices and roasted red pepper strips around a crock of goat cheese flecked with black olive bits. (The goat cheese is especially decadent when spread on a slice of olive bread, which will be in the bread basket if you're lucky. The breads here are uniformly terrific.) Also on the plate was a spicy corn salsa that struck a
discordant note in the company of these harmonious Mediterranean ingredients, and tomato slices dusted with finely grated cheese that might as well have been dust.
Pacific Coast Caesar Salad ($4) is so named because ripe avocado slices and dry Jack cheese are added to the conventional formula. Sorry, but I prefer the original: the mild flavor and creaminess of the avocado is lost amid the crunch of homemade croutons and lettuce; the Jack cheese isn't nearly as flavorful as Reggiano Parmesan.
Much better was the salad with goat cheese and sun-dried tomatoes ($5), a mountain of fancy designer greens glossed with balsamic vinaigrette.
Meatloaf ($8), the least expensive entree, was the least impressive dish. The single slice, topped with mashed potatoes and slender onion rings (a few of them burnt), arrives in a brown gravy; the whole wasn't appreciably better than a good diner would do.
Bouillabaisse ($16) was much more satisfying, with plenty of scallops, clams, mussels, firm fish chunks and crayfish in a tomato-fennel broth. It comes with a side of garlic and red pepper sauce meant for spreading on toast and dunking.
Penne with red and green peppers and sweet Italian sausage ($9) was paired with a thick red sauce with spicy kick. A special of the night, tender slices of filet mignon in a black peppercorn-cognac sauce, was almost explosively peppery.
The menu's most eclectic dish is its best: six grilled shrimp resting on biscuit-size sweet corn cakes in a creamy red bell pepper sauce ($14). In the middle was a small, slightly spicy mountain of corn and diced red pepper that deliciously echoed the flavors of the sauce and the biscuits.
Over two visits, we sampled only one dessert - crepes submerged in a vanilla cream sauce, topped with fresh raspberries ($5). Souffles, which take 20 minutes to prepare, were not mentioned until after our entrees were cleared. (A note at the bottom of the menu would give fair warning.)
And on my second visit, Adrienne's committed an almost unpardonable sin: closing the kitchen at the most un-bistrolike hour of 9:50 p.m., denying us not only souffles but any dessert.
ADRIENNE'S BISTRO * 1/2 $ $
530 SOUTH ST., 215-829-9620.
Dinner: 5-10 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday and Sunday; till 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Closed Monday.
Liquor: Full bar, premium wines by the glass.
Accessibility: One step at entrance.
Credit cards: American Express, Diners, Discover.
Atmosphere: Bistro with a Ralph Lauren look.