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Savoring the Simple Charms of Bastide

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In its almost decade of business, Bastide--the French restaurant tucked into a pocket of Melrose Place--has earned a reputation as being elegant, avant garde, ever-evolving, and for some, a bit unapproachable. This summer, however, the courtyard of Bastide is opening up its gates to welcome in customers for a sort of getting-to-know you weekly special that includes wine and cocktails and small bites for the very approachable price of $15.

This pre-dinner cocktail hour, held Mondays between 5 and 7 p.m., aims to give guests an opportunity to wind down in style in a beautiful space while getting a taste of what Bastide, and Chef Joseph Mahon, can do. Of course, if you can stay--or come back another evening--for dinner, even better.

Recently we were invited to spend a Monday evening at Bastide, first to toast to the cocktail hour, and then to sample some of Chef Mahon's restrained, seasonal, French-American fare with thoughtful wine pairings by Sommelier Dario Dell'anno.

The crisp late afternoon sun gave way to a cool, dusky evening outside Bastide, under the canopy of their giant olive tree. Inside, the various small, quirky dining rooms played host to several diners, while trays of small bites, like Yellowtail Tartare with Coconut, Cilantro and Lime and Chilled Corn Soup with Poached Shrimp, Orange, and Curry Oil, circulated among groups of mingling guests unwinding and filling the air with upbeat chatter and peals of laughter. A crisp glass of champagne punctuated the cocktail hour for many, while others sipped on Soju martinis. It is a "happy hour" of another caliber, but a happy hour none the less, and a great way to tame a case of the Mondays.

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After the cocktail hour wound down, the more focused business of dinner was on the table. Chef Mahon's plates are well-portioned celebrations of the season and the ingredients. In perhaps a nod to what has become an upscale trend item, we opened with a piece of impeccable fried chicken paired with a watermelon salad that balanced the richness of the chicken and infused a playful spirit into the meal right from the start.

Although the sun was setting and the light dimming all around us, each dish that was set down was like a paced, steady series of fireworks exploding with their vibrant colors. The almost shocking orange-pink of a fleshy piece of moist salmon sat in a magenta pool of wine sauce dotted with bright green snap peas. Even something as deceptively simple as a grilled piece of tender lamb paired with a silky carrot puree was a feast first for the eyes, and then for the palate.

Perhaps the essence of Bastide is best evidenced by the plate that holds a cylinder of fresh butter with a radish to the side. This is not a throw-away item, or a time to raise your hand to halt the basket's pass to you in allegiance to your no-carb lifestyle. This is French food, this is eating. Just like the restaurant itself, and the food of Chef Mahon, it is simple, it is charming, and it worth savoring.

Bastide is open for dinner Monday - Thursday from 6:00 - 10:00 p.m. and Friday - Saturday from 5:30 - 10:30 p.m. Mondays at Bastide, their $15 cocktail and small bites "hour," is from 5-7 p.m. Mondays.