Flavor: Pardon our French

I’m back from lunch sitting at my computer and it’s only 12:15. Was I hungry? Well, always. But more to the point, was I smart? Walk into the French Meadow at noon and you’ll spend your lunch hour waiting for a table, that’s how popular this convivial bistro is. Has been, ever since day one, way back in 1985, when the owner made change out of a cigar box. With the day’s earnings she bought a cash register and it hasn’t stopped ringing since.

Oh, the place has evolved, all right, along with its customers — then a sandaled, tie-dyed, counter-culture crowd. Today you’ll spot as many briefcases as backpacks among the folks scanning a menu — one that has also expanded from vegan-or-else to include fish and chicken in pan-global flavors. Organic, it goes without saying, for healthful dining is still the working mantra here. It’s simply disguised as classy bistro food.

At night, these days, a wait staff serves the close-packed tables, set with votive candles and jugs of posies to further soften the cozy atmosphere. Wine has been added, and it’s half-price on weeknights. At breakfast and lunch, you place your order at the counter before it’s delivered tableside. Providing you snagged a table.

I’m sixth in line by now, prime time for my usual panic attack: What-what-what to order when I want it all? I settle (wisely, it turns out — well, it always does) on Le Trois, a three-salad combo, perfect for those of us who count ourselves among the choosing-challenged.

On heavy diner china it arrives, and voilà (I’ll toss in a little French because I’m among hip, artiste-type company here, as always): three scoops.

The egg salad, gently flavored with tarragon, holds the egg whites in tiny dice, while the sunny yolks have been mashed to hold the scoop together — in other words, no cloying overload of mayo.

Same with the tuna variation, greened with chives and modest bits of celery; you’re enjoying fish, not filler. And how about that chicken number, born of a free-range bird and dressed with a hint of curry and crunch of almonds? Not bad, either. All are seasoned ever so subtly (as some would applaud — you actually taste the main attraction — while others are free to holler, "Punch it up!")

Whatever. They rest on a jubilant bundle of micro-greens (just-born baby beet leaves, neo-natal spinach and such) glistening with a smooth and snappy vinaigrette. Three slices of gently toasted baguette, baked from organic flour, complete the generous plate, yours for $8. And you can leave feeling smug about keeping your New Year’s resolution to eat healthfully.

Or not. It’s my moral duty to warn you of the contents of the bakery counter: a mile-high slice of chocolate fudge cake rippling with chocolate frosting; cappuccino torte made with espresso, buttercream frosting, and chocolate ganache; a regal tres leches cake; cheesecakes in way-too-wicked flavors; and an apple tart tatin, served warm, with freshly whipped cream. I’m just sayin.’

French Meadow
2610 Lyndale Ave. S.
870-7855
frenchmeadowcafe.com