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Saturday, October 25, 2014
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Published: Friday, 7/23/2004

Restaurant review: Fifi's *****

Restaurant menus, dcor, and personnel come and go, so it's nice to discover a place that stubbornly stakes its claim on consistency.

In the overall scheme of things, a chef may move on, the menu may get tweaked or overhauled, and the servers may trade in their aprons for other work. But ideally, the quality of food remain unequaled, the atmosphere exudes the same elegant charm, and the people who make and serve the food continue to welcome patrons with personal attention, big smiles, and an excellent selection of wines.

I'm thinking specifically of Fifi's, a classic restaurant located off Airport Highway that has adhered to the values and standards of its owner, Fifi Berry, since its start in 1980. She is a stickler for the kind of food and level of attention that hasn't wavered in all the years I've been patronizing the place.

It's a restaurant - cozy, French, very expensive - at which I can honestly say I've never had a bad meal. Along with a small handful of other restaurants in the Toledo area, Fifi's presents dishes that offer both pleasure and surprise.

Consider these dishes, which, like the restaurant itself, call up continental memories of years gone by: steak Diane, flamed in a brandied demi-glace at tableside ($29.75); tournedos barnaise with artichoke hearts ($29.25), also prepared tableside, and entrees including dover sole almandine, veal marsala, New Zealand rack of lamb, and osso buco (braised veal shanks), all in the $25-$30 range.

About the dcor, nothing seems to have changed; it's still a sophisticated, romantic hideaway offering refuge from the workaday world. There's the same soft sparkle of reflected lights, white linen on the tables, a baby grand piano that comes alive on weekends, and a large, striking mural of Fifi looking out from behind the bar.

A good many of the salads, appetizers, and entrees have been on the menu for years, a tribute to their popularity. On a recent night we struck it rich with one of the mainstays, bouef au fromage ($27.75) - tender sauted medallions of beef tenderloin with equally tender asparagus spears and a zig-zag of melted Roquefort cheese.

From the twilight menu, a daily list of summertime offerings, we ordered a cup of rich mushroom soup ($3.25), along with a crisp house salad with balsamic vinaigrette. As befits a restaurant of Fifi's caliber, the waiter brought out a sorbet before the next course to refresh our palate.

The appetizer was warm diver scallops ($12.75), pan-seared and flavored with shallots, shiitake mushrooms, lemongrass, ginger, and garlic. The entre, a sauteed filet of Canadian salmon ($26.95), was delicately draped in roasted bell pepper sauce and accompanied by duchess potatoes and braised baby spinach.

We skipped dessert this time around, but based on past experience I can heartily recommend the flamb bananas Foster ($7), a scrumptious coda to an evening repast.

A note about the continuity of service: Our waiters for the last few visits have remained the same. Ahmad and Antonio buttress the restaurant's reputation with impeccable attention to the customers, along with Sherry and Holly, who round out the dining room staff. And then there's Fifi herself, along with her daughter Kelley(cq), who greet patrons personally, making them feel, at least for a time, like one of the family..

The restaurant is in South Village Square, a strip of businesses on Bernath Parkway just off Airport Highway in South Toledo.

Contact Bill of Fare at fare@theblade.com



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