7600 Doctor Phillips Blvd. | 407-745-5045 | bistrocloclo.com | $$$$
First, a disclaimer: After having lived in Paris for some time and working as a French-trained chef, I’m particularly hard on Gallic cuisine. That being said, I really really really wanted to like Bistro CloClo, but I just didn’t.
It all started with a dirty tablecloth. Like, really soiled. It was a dead giveaway that the staff doesn’t change them after each party leaves – just the butcher paper on top – and it left me piqued from the start. But the main reason I can’t endorse the place is this: It’s just not French. More like, c’est á dire, faux-French.
The rest of the decor at Bistro CloClo recalls the kind of Paris the Mouse would want you to see – though I’d stop short of assuming a rat chef was running the kitchen; consulting chef Julien Bouchet (French) and his staff (not French, presumably) do better than your above-average rodent. The walls are covered in ruby-red damask wallpaper, lined with original oil paintings of Parisian landmarks (some of which are very good; all are on sale) and bear giant mirrors for checking lipstick and locks.
We started with the platter of cheese and charcuterie ($19). A generous hunk of Roquefort sat beside fanned slices of saucisson, hard salami and Brie (properly at room temperature, though far from the runny and luxuriant fromage for which France is most revered). The accompanying crusty baguettes are made in-house and served nicely warmed, so thank Dieu for that. Pass up the vol au vent d’escargots ($12), puff pastry cups filled with snails in a garlic sauce – I was thrilled to see them on the menu, but other than the buttery, flaky pastry, the filling – snail included – was insipid and flavorless.
The mesclun greens in the salade CloClo ($14) were nicely dressed, but topped with charred toast points and dry slices of smoked duck breast better suited for a jerky bag. There’s an option to add sautéed foie gras, and I suggest going for it for the extra 12 bucks – without the perfectly cooked goose liver, the salad would be sad and droopy. Scallops à la CloClo ($29) was the favorite entrée at the table; each diver bivalve was plump, tender and had a nice sear. Each sat atop a little mound of black-rice risotto (not French) and sported a drizzle of apple-cider sauce (not French), which was delicious, though we couldn’t detect any apple beyond the sauce’s sweetness.
Bistro CloClo has its own version of a cronut (so not French) that you don’t have to wait in line three hours to sample ($8). Called “French donuts” (“cronut” is copyrighted, natch), they’re miniature versions of the New York pastry craze, glazed and drizzled with red berry sauce. A chocolate mousse with a nice silky texture ($9) was presented prettily, piped atop a puff pastry rectangle like an inside-out éclair.
A shining spot in the evening was our individual service, which was nothing short of superior. In France, servers train for years and remain in the métier – the career – their whole lives; waiting tables isn’t just a summer job. Our server was elegant, gracious and knowledgeable. He didn’t bat an eyelash when I asked if the steak au poivre’s – which can barely be called that since the only peppercorns detectable were the green ones in the sauce – New York strip ($33) was prepared sous-vide, since it was done perfectly through, a result very difficult to achieve by any other method. He also kindly poured us a more expensive bottle of wine for the same price as the less-expensive but out-of-stock bottle we had ordered.
The place has only been open a measly three months, but has already garnered plenty of attention, including two OpenTable Diners’ Choice awards for outstanding lunch and outdoor dining. The latter is baffling, considering that the outdoor Paris-style café patio overlooks a vast parking lot – not exactly picturesque.
I wouldn’t discourage a visit to Bistro CloClo, though I would suggest dining there when someone else is footing the bill before deciding whether or not it’s worth coming back to spend your own dough. Try it. You might like it.