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Ah, Vie's touch of France n'est pas bon

Bread & Brew


by: TRIBUNE PHOTO: CHRISTOPHER ONSTOTT - Beau Breedlove's French-inspired Vie serves up dishes such as boeuf bourguignon, which resembles Grandma's pot roast, and is available on the prix fixe menu.The romance of France, or at least of French restaurants, has clearly captivated Beau Breedlove, who owns and is the chef at Vie.

(And, yes, he’s the same Beau Breedlove who was involved with former Mayor Sam Adams).

The courses on Vie’s petite menu are listed “un, deux, trois” and the house signature cocktail is the Belle Fleur: sparkling wine flavored with “essence from the oldest roses in France.”

The room is warm and sparkling, white and gold, with an odd preponderance of religious art on the walls. The soundtrack comes from a lost 1960s film, something circa “What’s New, Pussycat?”

The best thing about the restaurant is the view. It is one of a very small group of Portland restaurants from which you can actually see the river, and, like most of that group, it’s on Riverplace, the broad pedestrian walk south of downtown. At night, a procession of lights sails through the air as cars pass on the dark Marquam Bridge. The rigid lacework of the Hawthorne Bridge is silhouetted against the sky, and boats with glowing windows glide past on the black water.

But eventually you have to admit the truth about Vie: the food isn’t very good. The French theme is superficial, and the kitchen doesn’t delve deeply into any of French cooking’s many incarnations. The candelabra and white tablecloths might lead you to expect the indulgent cream-and-truffles cooking of the 1980s. The funky Portland setting might lead you to expect the market-driven bistro style that is in fashion. But the main inspiration here appears to be the prepared food section at Trader Joe’s.

In other words, it’s not terrible. The soupe a l’oignon is made with sweet Spanish onions in a rich, winey broth. But on top is just a dry sprinkle of cheese — no bread, no bubbling Gruyere, which I think you’re justified in expecting when there’s a French flag hanging outside.

A caprese salad was all chewy dark green frisee, with a few cherry tomatoes and some cubes of fresh mozzarella that tasted grainy and cheap. Perhaps the Caesar salad is better. It’s what we ordered, but not what we were served.

The broth in the boeuf bourguignon was tasty, but the beef was a bit dry. So were the big chunks of carrot and potato that surrounded it, making it look like Grandma’s pot roast. It was OK, but I would have been pretty disappointed if I had paid $19 for it.

Instead, I got it as part of a prix fixe menu, which is a better deal — $31 for three courses (one of which is dessert). You can also get a $51, five-course dinner, but that would truly stretch the limits of the menu, which has only five entrees, two of which are entree-sized salads.

Besides the beef, the other main courses are chicken with lemon-caper cream and gnudi, a ricotta-based Italian dumpling. These were tender but dense, flecked with spinach, and tossed in butter and lemon with lots of capers. Not bad, just underwhelming.

Desserts were on par. The chocolate cake was light, springy and mild, drizzled with raspberry syrup. It’s a specialty of the house, but you have to read the menu to know why: it’s made with pink Champagne, which, of course, has disappeared into the chocolate.

Another dessert is a plate of macarons, arranged in a pretty pattern around a coconut-flavored pat of sugar. The cookies are dry little things with chocolate frosting piped into their centers. The frosting hadn’t gelled, so the halves slid apart as we bit into the cookies.

If food is an afterthought, maybe it’s because the owner cares more about fostering a charming ambiance, which he has done fairly successfully. You can stop by at happy hour to admire the view and sip a discounted sparkling wine, perhaps one spiked with raspberry, cassis, mint or vanilla. But you can’t pop in for cocktails — there’s beer and wine only, and the wine list is very succinct.

Overall, the result is an empty house on a Saturday night, which dampens the mood of both customers and staff.

Oh well, c’est la vie.

Vie, 4:30 p.m.-midnight Wednesday-Monday (closed Tuesday), 0315 S.W. Montgomery St., Suite 150, 503-222-1290, www.viepdx.com

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