Globe North Dining Out

In Westford, a bit of elegance among the strip malls

By Kathleen Pierce
Globe Correspondent / November 7, 2010

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At Belle’s Bistro in Westford, rainbow trout is served on a pillow of puréed cauliflower with roasted grapes in a brown balsamic butter sauce. Devouring this elegant meal in a town known more for Golden Arches than Michelin ratings is a happy hallucination. But Belle’s is no mirage. For five years, the snug spot has turned out consistently delicious fare for locals and cubicle dwellers locked in a sea of strip malls flanking Interstate 495.

Belle’s is not for the weak-willed. Even the ravenous will have to man up and strap on the feedbag here. Classics like salmon, pork chops, and sirloin steak get a “new American’’ spin in chef Alan Lantz’s competent hands. Nothing is passé, and the sides are as dynamite as the entrées.

The night we pulled into the rehabbed doublewide — formerly Ye Olde Beef n’ Ale — was unseasonably warm for October. But that didn’t stop me from ordering a bowl of butternut squash soup ($6.50). It tasted like Thanksgiving: not too buttery, just nourishing and warm. A swirl of curry cream gave it an invigorating boost. A sweet German Riesling ($8) paired perfectly with the earthy broth.

On a Wednesday after 8 p.m., the merlot-hued bistro still had a pulse. Westford is an early dining town. If you arrive at 8:15 on a weeknight, you can have your pick of tables. But that doesn’t mean you’ll be alone. We sat at a high-top in the bar area and were bombarded by neighboring chatter. Perhaps the acoustics are designed to give this suburban bistro an urban beat. Works on a Friday, but clangs if a romantic meal or business dinner is what you’re after.

There are three other rooms, one with a faux fireplace and another as tight as a railway dining car. From where we sat we could see the kitchen and hear the staff’s friendly banter. Waitresses smile directly at you and seem proud to be serving this sumptuous food without pretense.

We split oysters ($13) from New Hampshire that were briny and fresh. It was a nice accompaniment to the roasted beet and goat cheese salad ($9). The greens were fresh and perfectly vinegary. A dusting of hazelnuts was textural and toasty.

Coupled with the butternut soup, this could have been the whole shebang, but with winter approaching I wouldn’t leave without trying New Orleans étouffée ($22). This okra-forward mound of rice, shrimp, crawfish, and sausage could ward off any Arctic chill. The flavors melded marvelously, but we could have used more rice to soak up the spices in this gumbo. Otherwise, it was a direct hit.

When I dined at Belle’s in late summer, the grilled turkey meatloaf won me over. Three slices thick and served on a warm heap of sage polenta, it left me swooning. Sadly, it didn’t make it to the fall menu, but I was assured that it’s poised for a comeback.

Belle’s wines by the glass will not ring everyone’s chimes, but there’s enough variety to impress the aficionados. The martini menu is the deepest, but again nothing over-the-top creative. All martinis are under $10, something to cheer about.

Desserts are in step with the seasons. Pumpkin crème brûlée, pumpkin swirl brownie with vanilla ice cream, and cranberry molasses bread pudding ($7.50) sounded divine. But the portions are so monstrous here, we waved them off, promising to return for sweets and cappuccino next time. And there will be a next time.

Belle’s Bistro 2 Power Road, Westford
Hours: Tuesday and Wednesday, 5 to 9 p.m.; Thursday through Saturday, 5 to 9:30 p.m.; closed Sunday and Monday
All major credit cards accepted
Accessible to the handicapped