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Refreshing atmosphere, food make good combo

O Bistro's website waxes lyrical about West Coast elegance and a palate filled with the colours of sea, sky and earth, but frankly, the whole thing looks so après-ski to me that each time I look out the window here and see traffic instead of snow, I

O Bistro's website waxes lyrical about West Coast elegance and a palate filled with the colours of sea, sky and earth, but frankly, the whole thing looks so après-ski to me that each time I look out the window here and see traffic instead of snow, I do a double-take.

Of the three areas, a small section seating about 20 is suitable for family dining. A sheltered patio provides a good spot for al fresco dining -- complete with a fireplace for cooler summer nights. Last but not least, the bar offers an assortment of comfortable seating, suitable for anything from a bite to eat with a glass of wine to a full meal.

Service is both skilled and gracious and begins the moment you cross the threshold, which is refreshingly different.

When Carolyn and I visited, we had mixed feelings about the abridged menu and the wine list. I am all for promoting local products, but we do not yet manage all styles of wines well in this province, so offering only B.C. wine is a bit like cutting off your nose to spite your face. Nor do they do anything by the half litre, which is irritating when five-oz. glass prices begin at $6. Sorry, but I haven't met the B.C. red yet that I would be happy to pay $12 a glass for. Our server politely confided that they do keep a couple of bottles of non-B.C. wines on hand, so why not just stick a few on the list?

As for the food, it is refreshing not to have to spend time deciphering yet another overly descriptive laundry list of Asian-inspired dishes, but a choice of just over a dozen items came as a bit of a shock. Fortunately, though the list might be on the short side, it turns out there is a decent range of options. Just as importantly, there is an obvious effort to use quality ingredients while keeping prices under control.

We began with a trio of the smaller dishes available most of the day as appetizers. Crab cakes with vodka and caper sauce were small, a little short on shellfish and, not something either of us felt we would order again. Skewers of tempura-battered prawns served with coriander scented carrot coulis, however, were generous in portion and excellent. We also made a good dent in a mound of sweet potato fries served with chipotle and caramelized onion sauces, but restrained ourselves so we would be able to finish our entrées in comfort.

Carolyn made good work of her choice of taglierini tossed with coconut curry sauce, pine nuts, currants and roasted red peppers, but was irritated by the fact that our main course came on pretty aqua -- yet very plastic -- plates. I thought about the AAA steak paired with double-smoked bacon sauce, but roasted free range chicken served with warm avocado and crab salad, and lemon and cucumber-infused yogurt won out. This was an interesting ensemble of three very different dishes only lacking in the sense that there were no vegetables to speak of. Though the first two courses were successful, we were less enthusiastic about coffee (weak) and dessert (average chocolate cake) though neither were terrible and the coffee was cheerfully replace with a stronger brew.

It's a nice spot, and I am happy to recommend it, particularly for a casual evening of good food.

The only drawbacks to this spot are that limited wine list (though if enough people ask for that other wine we heard about, maybe this will change) the family dining area feels oddly exposed, some of the furniture is already showing signs of wear and there is something creepy about having to walk past the open door to the kitchen and racks of food in the hall on your way to the restroom.

WINE OF THE WEEK

With successive notes of mulberry, cassis and a hint of pepper, Leasingham's Clare Valley Bin 61 Shiraz is a remarkably polished wine for its price tag of under $15. It's a rich aubergine colour with a full bouquet offering hints of incense and wood, and the long, smooth finish is no surprise. Perfect for those cold nights in front of a crackling fire. Stock up on a few bottles now for the holiday season.

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RATINGS

Rating 1 Below bad

Rating 2 Below average

Rating 3 Average

Rating 4 Above average

Rating 5 Excellent