Opened in 2008 by Binghamton University professor Sean Massey and his husband Loren Crouch in what had for years been an Irish bar, Tranquil Bar and Bistro bills itself as, “(a) Little French Bistro in the Heart of Binghamton” and promises “(w)onderfully creative cuisine, spectacular beverage menu, welcoming surroundings and attentive service.” And, on the whole, it delivers on that promise.
My wife and I have been there for drinks, dinner, and brunch on a number of occasions, most recently on our tenth wedding anniversary last Tuesday. We arrived a bit early for our 8PM reservation to find ourselves the only dinner patrons—not entirely surprising for that hour on a Tuesday in Binghamton. We started out at the bar with the evening’s special: $5 rail martinis. In a trice the bartender poured us two perfect gin martinis—stirred not shaken—garnished with olives. (One might be surprised at how difficult it is in the post-James Bond world to get a real martini.) So, on to our dinner.
By the time we sat down to dinner another couple had come in to the restaurant. Our server was prompt and attentive to everyone. (In my experience, service is often worse in a nearly empty dining room because wait staff are bored.) On occasions when Tranquil was more crowded the service has been equally good. After considering the daily specials we both decided to order from the menu. My wife chose the Trout Meunière and I the Steak au Poivre. Since we were having such different entrees we bypassed the impressive wine list and chose white and red Côtes du Rhônes by the glass. Our server brought us a basket of excellent warm bread—Italian bread, actually, but that is what Binghamton is famous for—with whipped honey butter. I would have preferred a bit of French baguette with unsalted butter but what we had was good. The salads were very nice plates of mixed greens in a classic French house vinaigrette garnished with cucumber slices and grape tomato halves. They were attractive, tasty, and perfectly whetted our palates for what was to come.
While preparation a la meunière is often associated with sole it works wonderfully with any small mild fish. In this case it appeared to be farm-raised rainbow trout which is sustainable and delicious. Our only compliant is that the fish was perhaps a bit overdone, either because getting thin filets done perfectly is difficult or because of the local Binghamton culture that looks askance at potentially undercooked food. (My personal opinion is that there is no such thing as undercooked fish.) The rice pilaf accompanying the trout was very good and a perfect match for the buttery sauce. About the vegetable of the day, broccolini, more later.
I am sorry to report that the steak au poivre was less successful. For one thing, it was served with mashed potatoes, the traditional accompaniment of pommes frites being unavailable. The potatoes were fine—red potatoes with bits of skin—but I find it unbelievable that an establishment billing itself as a French bistro does not offer that most iconic of French bistro food, the French fry. Secondly, although the meat was cooked nicely rare as I requested, I found the serving too large, too thick, and not well trimmed. In fairness to the chef, we Americans tend to prefer large slabs of beef, but a French bistro would do well to consider getting French cuts of meat. I could not tell whether the steak had been cooked on a grill but the classic French preparation would have been in a very hot cast iron skillet with a bit of butter. And for my taste it could have used quite a bit more black pepper.
Now to the broccolini. I love broccolini, a smaller, crunchier version of broccoli. But what we were served was disappointing. Some of the stalks were bright green as they should be but others had the telltale grey of reheated vegetables. Yet they were still a bit underdone. A $27 entrée should not come with obviously reheated green vegetables, ever. Broccolini is a nice touch but it has to be done right and served fresh.
Our evening ended with complimentary crème brûlée, in honor of our anniversary—a nice surprise made possible by one of Glenda’s artist colleagues whose work was on display at Tranquil for the month. All in all, it was a wonderful celebration. Despite my nitpicking, which I offer as constructive criticism, we will certain be back and I urge everyone to give Tranquil Bar and Bistro a try.
Tranquil Bar and Bistro
36 Pine Street
Binghamton, NY 13901