Hilderbrand, Elin. The Blue Bistro. St. Martins, 2010. 336 pp. ISBN 9780312628260. $16.99
Growing up, we didn’t have a lot of money for fine dining or vacations; my parents took my brother and I over the Cape Cod Canal to visit Edaville Railroad once, when we were maybe 4 & 6, and it took me 20 years to return. The strong sense of deja vu at the sight of scrub pines, weathered shingle homes, and salt tang air made me immediately feel like I’d come home. The Cape is magical, and I feel the odd sense of homecoming every time I return.
Besides the fact that The Blue Bistro is set on a romantic and charming Nantucket Island off the coast of my native Massachusetts, I am not sure I can completely place what I find so compelling about it that I’ve read this book about 20 times in the last ten years. Is it the fly on a wall feeling to the restaurant industry? The encapsulation of summer on the Cape? The hopeful but doomed romance? The mouthwatering menu descriptions? All of the above.
Adrienne is on the run from her latest relationship disaster when she lands on the island. No stranger to the hospitality industry, she ends up as the first lady hostess at a playful and upscale fine dining beachfront restaurant at the whim of the boyishly handsome co-owner Thatcher who takes an instant liking to her. The Bistro is opening for it’s final season (no one will tell her why) and she’s not only learning the ropes of the restaurant industry, she’s trying to figure out the relationship between Thatcher and Fiona, the very private and reclusive chef who doesn’t give interviews, come out of the kitchen, or show up at staff meal, even as she falls for him.
Articles about The Blue Bistro that Adrienne digs up help tell the story of its rise to fame, while plot, character and setting are further revealed not only through Adrienne’s present day narrative, through emails and postcards to her father and friend, and through flashbacks and reflections about her past lovers as she struggles with figuring out why she is so adrift, and how to make this relationship different. She has a thing for assholes. Thatcher isn’t one, but his heart, for all his denied it, seems to be committed elsewhere.
The pacing of the summer season helps to drive the plot. June is a soft open, the fourth of July over the top, the rest of the month is the first steep hill of a roller coaster, and then August is a frenzy of tomato specials and guests stealing the silverware as the last day rockets ever closer.
The drama between the various characters is completely spot on. I only waited tables for about a year, but the credit card wars, flitations between staff, old school kitchen brigand style, and kids making a mess at a fancy night out all rang true. The descriptions of food will make you drool and have you out of bed at 2am to put together a poor substitution of Fiona’s creme fraiche and caviar dip with hand cut potato chips (Ruffles and dill dip made with mayo, sour cream, and dried dill, don’t judge me).