The Cavalier Daily
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Not your grandma's meatloaf

Meatloaf and fine dining. It is not often that the two worlds of ground cow bricks and culinary excellence collide - at least not pleasantly. However, that is just what happens at Bizou, a retro-designed, homestyle-serving bastion of good eats where the often-overlooked, humble meatloaf is king of cuisine.

Located on the downtown mall, Bizou is a small restaurant that makes up in décor what it lacks in space.

With red walls, artsy movie posters, retro booths and vintage jukeboxes at every table, Bizou features an appealing, retro atmosphere unusual to Charlottesville.

Such funky distinctiveness, though, does not transform the restaurant into a casual dive. The ambience is classy, as demonstrated by the all black garb of the attentive and professional waitstaff. The restaurant's distinguished clientele contributes to the aura of the restaurant. The place usually is crowded with University professors and their families and friends. For the student who desires to see the "real" side of the men and women behind the doctorates, Bizou makes for excellent star gazing.

Food is the true focus, though, and the menu, with its diverse offerings, is worth a look. Starters, called "small stuff" at Bizou, are largely traditional and small. Salads range from the staple house, for $3.25, to a portabella and mixed greens, for $7.95, to a caesar, for $5.95.

The baby green salad is particularly good: both excellent and generously portioned. At $7.95, this garden delight blends the eclectic textures and flavors of a mesculun salad mix with lightly toasted walnuts, crumbly chunks of Danish bleu cheese and a light blueberry vinaigrette.

For those who prefer non-vegetable appetizers, Bizou also offers steamed veal ravioli with roasted butternut squash sauce and warm ricotta ($6.95) as well as a spicy chicken quesadilla with créme fraiche and tomato salsa ($6.50). Another option is the salmon cakes with horseradish cream ($5.95) which features three battered and deep-fried salmon patties that would appeal to hush puppie and fish stick fanatics everywhere.

At the heart of a Bizou meal are classic entrees and featured specials. And, at the heart of every Bizou patron is the meatloaf. Homemade on the premises, the meatloaf at Bizou defies all greasy-spoon, left-over stereotypes which have for so long plagued the modest, unpretentious meatloaf. Here, for $9.95, it is brought to full glory, wrapped in silver-foil robes and adorned with snazzily drizzled chipotle ketchup, warm and creamy smashed potatoes, mesculun salad greens and a hunk of french bread.

For those seeking other home-cooked favorites, Bizou also makes a tasty roasted half chicken ($12.95) which is drenched in homemade gravy and a heaping scoop of smashed potatoes. Other staples include the grilled ribeye ($17.95) which comes with crispy onions, homemade steak sauce and mashed potatoes. A veal flank steak ($14.25) is served amongst wild rice, assorted mushrooms,and thyme-rosemary cream. Rounding out the homemade favorites is an extremely tender and savory pork tenderloin ($15.95), accompanied by slightly dried-out purple potato croquettes and immersed in a warm and autumnal acorn squash sauce.

For the diner who scoffs at the traditional, Bizou offers up Chilean mahi-mahi with parmesan risotto, basil oil and a tomato chevre salad for $14.25 as well as a spinach-based veggie burrito adorned with a zesty fruit salsa and chipotle crŠme fraiche for $12.95.

Of all the things that one can have at Bizou, there is only one that the diner absolutely must have, besides the trusty meatloaf. Bizou's famous banana dessert ($5.00) is a requirement for the complete meal. Composed of a generous slab of banana bread and scoops of creamy vanilla ice cream drenched in a decadent praline sauce, this dessert is both original and exquisite. By carefully blending hot with cold, soft with crunchy and cake with cream, the dessert ably balances diverse flavors, textures and sensations. This dessert should not be missed. The portion which Bizou presents its patron is quite generous. The dessert is also quite rich, making the banana bread creation an excellent date dish that begs to be shared.

The bill is the only thing that will leave a diner unsatisfied. Although Bizou serves up home-cooked meals, they are far from free. Bizou is a little on the pricy side, causing its patrons to question whether it might not have been better to get that "home-cooked" meal at home, after all.

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