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Bistro on the Avenue
1362 Greene Ave, Westmount

Open Mon-Wed:11:30 a.m.-10:30 p.m. Thurs-Sat 11:30 a.m.-11:00 p.m. Closed Sunday 939-6451
Went to Greene Ave. in Westmount's Bistro on the Avenue last evening. Everything went from good to worse in a hurry. The place is between de Maisonneuve and Sherbrooke not far from Atwater, and is ensconced in what looks like a mini-mall—there's a pharmacy practically sharing a door with it and there are some other shops on either side and above. There's a small terrasse that spills onto the street. The weather was good and the terrasse was full at about 7:30 p.m., which is when we arrived.

The place was packed. The inside is a long, narrow room stretching into the gloom with a staircase leading to an upper level at the back and a ramp leading to the kitchen and bathrooms in the middle, a long chalkboard advertising Kilkenny, Tuborg and Guinness beers in the middle above a mirrored wall. There's a bar on your left as you come in. The clientèle seemed to be mostly over fifty, some dressed up and some not. I didn't feel out of place with a golf shirt and jeans, but my friend wished she'd dressed a little better.

There are tables for four against the left-hand wall and also against the right-hand wall. Down the center, there are tables for two separated by a shoulder-level glass partition. We were told we'd be seated in five minutes. We were offered a table on the terrasse but, having quickly scoped it out and discovering 90% of our companions would be smokers, declined. I was to regret that decision.

A couple who came in after us were told it would be a 15-minute wait for smoking, half an hour for non. They left. We should have made a reservation.

We were finally seated in the middle section on the floor, which initially wasn't so bad, as the couple on the other side of the low glass partition had just left and their table was marked "reserved."

We ordered a bottle of the Philippe de Rothschild Chardonnay ($26, very reasonable) and perused the menu.. There were a number of specials on a greenboard on the wall, including Clam Linguine ($14.95), Dilled Salmon with Shrimp and Scallops ($15.95) and Camembert Filo ($6.95), among others. The rest of the menu can pretty much be seen here.

The wine came promptly, served in a chilled bottle-holder, and was poured professionally. It was very good indeed. I'm actually not much of a Chardonnay fan, but this was very good.

We ordered, I with my usual test of a burger (say what you want, but if the burger's no good someone in the kitchen isn't doing their job) and my friend ordered Salmon à l'Orientale.

We were sitting and waiting when it was decided that my friend needed the soup of the day. Our waiter was nowhere in sight, but there was a tall waiter-looking guy cleaning the table across the partition and I asked him. He had no idea what the soup was, but our waiter had it on the table within the minute. (I later slipped what turned out to be the busboy five bucks—he was literally slaving away, plastered in sweat, but took the time to stop the waiter and make my request.)

Just then, the Eaters From Hell sat down across the partition. I thought having a non-smoking section should be mandatory, but I never considered a non-smelling section. One of them, I'm not sure which—they were thirty-somethings who seemed to be on a first date—had taken a shower in cologne or perfume, and the breeze was not being kind to us. Perhaps it was both of them. A sickly-sweet, nauseating blast of perfume that smelled somewhere between Brut and Poison overcame our table in waves—I literally was about to hit the bathroom, it was so awful.

I looked around for other tables but the place was packed. We sat mutely , trying not to gag, which resulted in our having to listen to their conversation, which was hard not to do, as they might as well have been sitting at the same table. All the tables, as a matter of fact, are almost as close together as your average across-the-aisle companion in the economy section of a typical 767. This place needs to expand, badly.

The soup, a cream of onion, was declared a winner. We received fresh bread with room-temperature Lactantia butter and a bowl of sweet gherkins, which was a nice touch.

The food, when it came, was unremarkable, at least for me, but then again, I was too busy trying to re-breathe to really notice. The salmon came in as "first-rate," with a side of patna rice (It's really patna!")

My hamburger was good but the roll was extremely chewy. There were short-cut fries that covered the entire plate which were not too bad—slightly cool and vaguely overcooked, but my serving came with a choice of spiced mayonnaise, ketchup and mustard, which was unexpected and well-received.

We paid the bill ($66 icluding wine and tax but not tip) and hurried out , mostly to get a breath of air (any air—fresh or not), my foregoing the usual coffee and cognac.

It was nobody's fault that Brut-laden Clyde and Poison-drenched Mindy decided to sit next to our table, but the tables were simply WAY too close together. Next time I'll run—no, sprint! to get a table with the smokers. Non-scented sections could be (ought to be) the wave of the future.

Actually, next time, I'll make a reservation and demand a table for four as far back in the upstairs as possible, perhaps in front of the blowers.

5.5 out of ten for food, 2.5 out of ten for ambience.

Reviewed by Nick Robinson

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