Close your eyes for a moment and imagine dining on a shared bowl of moules frite at a quaint little bistro overlooking the Seine.
Ripples of laughter, clinking of wine glasses and tiny waves from rowers against a backdrop of sunset blue and orange skies are your sights and sounds.
Now open your eyes, and the only change is from Seine to Saugatuck -- another scenic river meandering to ultimately the same sea.
This is Rive Bistro, a fresh change for a primo waterside dining address that has, until now, never fully capitalized on its setting.
With a total makeover from the previous beachy casual decor, the ambiance is now classic French bistro complete with deep red banquettes, iron and wood bistro tables, rustic floors, a comfy bar and sophisticated little metal sconces.
An outdoor cafe provides calming sea breezes in summer, and expansive indoor windows against a crackling fireplace give optimum water views in all seasons.
The setting is intentionally simple, and so are the menus and wine list. Servers here say that the chef's intentions are to serve classic food and drink with a light heart.
It works, beginning with the wine list which is, of course, mostly French, but with intelligent and mostly well priced nods to California and Italy as well.
Food follows the same theme, mostly French led by a first rate salade Nicoise with fresh seared tuna, but with nods to America in one of the best renditions of our classic Maine lobster roll served rightly with no embellishment save butter, shallots and a zing of lemon juice.
This kitchen is not going to bowl you over with culinary surprises, but instead will satisfy and please you with simple, classic dishes done very well.
We started our dinner with a heady duck and foie gras sausage alongside a small warm green lentil salad, brightened with the zing of saba vinegar.
A very classic escargot, which is hardly ever on menus anymore, brings smiles to those who remember this dish as the height of French cuisine.
For American traditionalists, the kitchen puts out a light, delicate crab cake that seems magically free of any breading, enriched with homemade curried remoulade and zinged with a baby green salad.
Other appetizer options range from rich foie gras mousse on brioche toasts to a sparkling light plate of blue point oysters with tequila mignonette.
An intelligent and well-chosen cheese plate or charcuterie board are simple options for summer, and a superb onion soup is a first rate winter choice.
Tomato bisque is brandished with eggplant rice balls, and the frisee salad is hearty with croutons, a warm bacon vinaigrette and a poached egg.
Main courses are classic bistro fare, including duck confit accompanied by fingerling potatoes and wild mushrooms; grilled salmon with sauteed kale, peppers, dill and pureed potatoes; and traditional roasted loin of lamb on a bed of tiny diced ratatouilles and potato gratin.
Chicken basquaise is a winning and warming stew with the traditional mix of onion, garlic, peppers and plum tomato, and moule frites are steamed in an equally fragrant vegetable base and served in a steaming pot along with the traditional heap of crisp French fries.
In true American form, sandwiches are on the menu day and night. In addition to the winning lobster roll, the French chef again proves he is "American" with a downright terrific burger, though the French heritage comes through in the cheese choice of brie, Roquefort, or gruyere -- no cheddar here.
Grilled marinated portobello mushrooms with basil pistou, merguez lamb sausage with onions, peppers and harissa aioli round out the sandwich menu.
Desserts are equally simple and classic French. Chocolate mousse is slightly grainy but wonderfully dark and rich, and finished with a perfect strawberry and mint leaf.
Apple tart is crisp, deeply caramelized base with rich, buttery, fragrant apple slices. Creme brulee and chocolate-sauced Madeleines round out the list.
Rive Bistro is an easy visit to the Seine on the Saugatuck, and a lovely way to spend a leisurely lunch or dinner time with friends.