Look out, Highland Park -- there's a new chef in town. After a stint at Bolsa in Oak Cliff, Andrew Bell has officially taken the helm at Highland Park Village's Bistro 31. It may seem like a bit of a gamble, bringing in a chef from a restaurant with a bohemian vibe to meet the expectations of the see-and-be-seen crowd, but nobody get your Hermes sweater in a twist just yet. He doesn't seem to be rocking many boats.
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When I stopped by for dessert recently, I wondered if the menu would have any surprises. Bistro 31's website is clearly in need of an update, given that it still features a spring menu and touts Eric Brandt as the chef. It seemed likely that Bell may have tweaked the dessert menu, perhaps adding something truly memorable, in league with Bolsa's legendary white chocolate rum tile. The server explained that the new chef has made "a few item changes," but the dessert menu is not for the adventurous: standards like crème brulee and strawberry shortcake dominate.
For a Tuesday night, the swanky restaurant was bustling with life. Elegant, silver-haired women and gents in dinner jackets spooned their lobster bisque in their tufted white leather seats. A table full of debutantes cackled over salads and reacted in unison when a girlfriend's engagement was announced: "Bless his heart!"
On the server's recommendation, I ordered the apple tarte tatin with vanilla bean gelato. It's a classic with an eye-pleasing presentation, served without imaginative twists. The apples are only slightly sweet, having simmered away in butter and sugar, anchored on a thin layer of puff pastry crust. The highlight of the dish? The authentic vanilla bean flavor of the gelato.
Maybe the packed dining room is evidence that the new chef has acclimated well to his new environs. In the lighted tree forest of Highland Park Village, Bistro 31's chandeliered dining room is a world away from Bolsa's eclectic atmosphere, but Bell seems to be preserving the status quo. And it seems a lot of people are going to be just fine with that. Bless his heart.