How on earth do the Russians figure into the very French concept of bistro? Well, according to French legend, the Cossacks who occupied Paris during the Napoleonic wars of 1814 demanded fast service in restaurants. (When you're conquering a country, it seems, you want your food and you want it NOW!) To expedite the waiters, they would shout, "Bystro!"("Quickly!") Apparently, the term stuck around after the Russians left, and over time, evolved into the modest, mid-scale French restaurants we know and love today. Food, of course, is a national obsession in France and their ethos demands that even the simplest places serve soul-satisfying fare. My lovely wife the Rock Star and myself recently decided to investigate this Russian/French axis of art form one recent Saturday evening, located at the Westin Galleria hard by the Tollway, and esconced just off the lobby escalators on (you guessed it!) the hotel's second floor.
Before you begin your own trek, I feel I must issue a warning: The parking garage entrance to the hotel is currently under construction, requiring you to schlep your spouse a hundred yards or so to a back staircase. Never fear, as said staircase opens outside to the valet entrance, and you can then ascend to the restaurant proper with only a minor loss of dignity.
Much has already been written and discussed about The Second Floor's environs, but I feel my bride put it most succinctly and accurately when she declared, "It's a hotel restaurant, people!" Indeed it is. If your not careful, you may mistake its unprepossessing external appearance for some place not worthy of your time, and give it a pass. My advice: Don't. Once you enter, you discover a beautiful long bar which dominates the front room, complete with premium bottles of potent potables lining the wall. Beige tones, sophisticated light fixtures, and rather smallish tables, unless you have a group of more than four. In short, a vibe of relaxed edginess, as suitable for two businessmen consummating a deal at the bar as for a family of tourists enjoying a late breakfast. After some initial confusion, we were seated in the smaller back dining room, where the genial and intelligent Doug took care of us.
Again, it is most helpful to remember that bistros serve simple, modest food, and The Second Floor achieves this with both technical and taste precision, reminding the diner that they are related to Bijoux, that five-star bastion of Gallic excellence located just a little farther down the Tollway. In fact, one of the simplest dishes made the greatest impression. Roasted corn chowder, garnished with truffles, sent my bride into paroxysms of ecstasy, more so that her beloved butternut squash soup from Gregory's in Plano. Now that the weather is turning cooler, a marvelous bowl of potage will not come amiss and this chowder would be worth a trip to The Second Floor alone, never mind the rest of the menu. After sampling as much as my wife would let me, my own cup of duck soup with saffron, though well-flavored, seemed almost ordinary by comparison. When pressed, Doug confessed that Executive Chef J Chastain was giving the chowder a dry run to see how it was received. Chef, the experiment should be ended at once; the soup's a keeper. The Rock Star yearned for scallops and was very pleased with the nightly special of Day Boat Scallops with tomatoes, cauliflower, and pearl onions, served with tender risotto. Deliciously balanced, although slightly fishy at first, until I sampled them with a swig of her Clayhouse sauvignon blanc, which accompanied the dish beautifully. I opted for a much simpler dish: Pork tenderloin sandwich, with lettuce, tomatoes and pickles between foccacia, and served with stone-ground mustard and pomme frites (very tasty, true French fries), and washed down with a simple French burgundy (pinot noir) that brought out the pork's marinade quite nicely. We did not even consider dessert after such an elegant repast and instead, opted for more drinks, another sauvignon blanc for her, a Glenlivet scotch with Speyside sparkling water for me.
SERVICE & WEBSITE
Doug was tireless, effecient, and talkative in just the right way, deftly straightening out issues with the bill with aplomb. Which reminds me: Make sure you have a clear understanding of your bill and what's on it, otherwise a $12 scotch can turn into $22 if your not careful. This was cheerfully rectified. Website is http://www.thesecondfloorrestaurant.com/.
You don't need a Cossack to take over Paris to find your own little slice of Gallic heaven in the Galleria. Investigate The Second Floor soon, and remember:
LIFE IS TOO SHORT FOR MEDIOCRE FOOD!!!