In some ways, Bistro Vivant has been a work in progress. This newcomer to the location recently vacated by McLean 1910, and before that by Three Pigs Barbecue, opened for business mid-May with a sheet of plastic for a sign, a menu still being tweaked, and an “under construction” website (that still offered a menu).
Yet, in the weeks since it opened, Bistro Vivant has been discovered. Sure signs: a customer who casually tells the waiter “the usual” and another who assures “see you soon” as she leaves, not to mention the noon-time hum of business.
Bistro Vivant may be what the area needed. It has all the earmarks of a French bistro, from the dark wood decor, to the waitstaff’s striped aprons, to the blackboard listing daily specials (you can check them out on Facebook), to the menu, which offers French classics with a contemporary twist.
The daily specials (which recently listed, among other dishes, bouillabaisse and a dessert of lightly sautéed local peaches topped with raspberry sorbet) should be a first stop before glancing at the menu. You may find enough interesting dishes there to bypass the menu entirely.
It also is worth looking at the “plats du jour,” which include duck breast, roast pork and, on Fridays, bouillabaisse, if you pick the right day. (You might want to check this list to schedule your visit.) For another bistro touch, wines are served by the glass, half carafe, carafe and bottle. The selections are nicely varied and the prices reasonable.
Lunch and dinner menus are somewhat different. Lunch has more salads and sandwiches, but some items are the same. Both menus list hors d’oeuvres, tempting small nibbles that include olives, goat cheese croquettes, and — on the lunch menu — a tasty dish of grilled peppers topped with white anchovies.
Both menus also list both entrees and “plats principaux.”
Again the selections are slightly different. Entree, lunch and/or dinner choices include steak tartare, Coquille St. Jacques, merguez, baked escargot and head cheese.
The lunch menu offers a French favorite, salad Nicoise — but with a difference. This salad, which is immense, has the expected string beans, potatoes, tomatoes, olives and hard-boiled eggs, but with a choice of the traditional tuna, scallops or shrimp, and with a bed of tangy arugula.
The endive salad Vivand is a light, well-balanced arrangement of endive leaves, smoked salmon (or ham, thinly shaved cheese, and a sprinkle of walnuts, a combination that works unexpectedly well). The bistro’s version of a Cobb salad substitutes pork belly for bacon, giving a different texture and taste.
For both lunch and dinner, the arctic char, with crushed local peas and a tomato/mint vinaigrette, the hanger steak and frites, and the hamburger Vivant deserve mention. The latter, with dry black Angus beef, is topped with tapenade and aged compte cheese. A more expensive version, hamburger royale ($19) is topped with foie gras.
The wine list is a nice mix of reds and whites, with enough wines available, bistro style, by glass, half carafe, carafe and bottle to allow a reasonable selection.
Bistro Vivand is under the same ownership as Assaggi Osteria, a scant quarter of a mile away, so the owners have a sense of the community and what it desires. Three Pigs was in this location for more than 20 years. Maybe Bistro Vivant will follow in the same footsteps.