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Bistro R raises the bar for strip-mall eateries everywhere.

Innsbrook Escape

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In a recent Monday evening, as the suburbanites of the world careened west into the sunset to Wal-Mart and Wyndham, we ducked into the Lexington Commons shopping center and found our way around to the side where Bistro R is located.

Hardly obvious to the uninformed eye, Bistro R is unassuming in appearance. In what appears to have once been two retail spaces now made into one, the restaurant offers a quiet respite from nearby noisy Broad Street. Visitors enter and take a seat at the bar or in the smoking or nonsmoking dining areas.

We had a reservation for 7:30 p.m. only because it was recommended but we really didn't need it on that particular night. There were two or three other couples quietly sipping wine and one foursome conducting business with a laptop perched on the corner of their table. I figured that Bistro R must be quite the global locale as two of their parties contained individuals with British accents.

Our waiter was prompt and informative about specials and portions and ingredients. We had a tough time deciding on what to order — everything sounded interesting and delicious. To stall for a few minutes we ordered glasses of Bridgeview Pinot and sipped and stared at our options.

For starters, Bottomless Pitt chose a special, au gratin scallops with chili mayonnaise ($8.95). Two plump specimens were topped with a dollop of the sauce and Parmesan cheese — very tasty. I thought the escargot sounded good — sautéed with garlic, shallots, basil and white wine-reduction encroute ($6). While the number of escargot was an impressive dozen, I wasn't crazy about the flavor. Maybe I'm too accustomed to the white wine/garlic/butter variety, but these were a bit bland. I ended up slathering on the snails just a touch of the herb butter that accompanied the warm bread. Next time, I might try the Chesapeake casserole with shrimp, crab, oysters and shallots in white wine cream sauce.

We munched on the delicious bread with its garlic-and-Parmesan crust and enjoyed the salads that came with our entrees. I chose the Caesar and did not regret it. The creamy dressing was not overly fishy and the croutons were fresh. BP's house salad was crisp with mixed greens and a tangy vinaigrette.

The main event was a carnivore's delight. BP chose the Buffalo Hill Farm bison Napoleon ($25). The dish consisted of layers of bison loin separated by asparagus, aged brie and topped with fried leeks. All of the above were served on a lumpy bed of mashed potatoes. He loved every bite. Having never had bison before, BP was intrigued, and happily surprised by its flavor. Julienned veggies came with the bison, as well as with my entrée of filet mignon topped with lobster and leek butter with bourbon shiitake demi-glaze ($24). The filet was tender and done to a perfect medium-rare and the lobster claw meat was a nice treat. Other entrees of interest were the lamb shanks, free-range veal, tuna, Chilean sea bass and pork tenderloin, all priced at $17-$25.

For dessert we tried the key lime pie and a slice of blackberry torte a la mode ($4.50 each). The pie was satisfactory, and the torte's taste was superb though it was just a little dry in texture.

Although there were a couple of shortcomings, our entrees were good and the service was perfect. Things certainly went well enough to inspire a repeat visit. Bistro R is yet another example of a shopping-center restaurant that deserves more respect than it probably gets from customers headed across the street to Kinko's to copy their resumés. As for me, I shall retire all preconceived notions about strip-mall

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