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A bistro is a small, casual eating establishment known for serving hearty, simple fare along with wine. Bistros originated in France and the United States has adapted the idea. An American bistro is likely to have not only French food, but basic filling foods inspired from other cuisines such as Asian and Italian.
The origin of the word to mean a certain style of restaurant is debated but is widely thought to date back to when Russian soldiers fought with the French in France during World War I. They would demand food quickly, and bistro means "fast" in Russian. But, bistro food is home cooking rather than typical American fast food or fancy, fussy fare. In Europe, this type of cooking was developed as a way of using up foods, such as making fresh vegetables and leftover meats into hearty stews. It may also be as basic as baguette, or French bread, served with pate and a glass of wine.
French onion soup and mussels a la mariniere are typical examples of French bistro food. Coq au vin, which is chicken in wine, is a classic dish. American bistros may also serve roast pork, Italian dishes made with portobello mushrooms and Asian duck. Although the food is served quickly in most bistros, the preparation time can be very long for the cooks as many dishes need marinating and/or long, slow cooking times. The savory blending of flavors is often a big hit with patrons, however.
Other foods that may be found in American bistros are salmon and steak served with garlic mashed potatoes. Vegetarian options may also be available. Beer and cocktails may be offered in addition to wine. The bistro option is appealing to many Americans as it is a move away from burgers and fries, yet is usually much more affordable and less time-consuming that going to an upscale restaurant.
The decor in a bistro is traditionally very simple, just like the food. Diners won't find starched fancy napkins, and some don't even have menus. Many feature basic furniture with a few framed prints on the walls. Classically, the outside may have a striped awning.