Continental Treat Fine Bistro

Food: 3 1/2 Suns

Ambience: 4 Suns

Service: 3 1/2 Suns

11 a.m. to 10 p.m. seven days a week

Dinner for two, excluding drink and tip: Basic, $50; loaded, $90

It’s a style that never goes out of fashion.

Red linen tablecloths, discreet gold-coloured walls, wood panelling, cloth napkins folded just right … even candles in wine bottles, melted wax frozen in time.

Continental Treat Fine Bistro is a bit of an oddity, an old-world dining establishment that has basically just been there on the corner of Whyte and 106 Street for an astounding 33 years.

It’s never been the talk of the town, never sought the limelight, just sat on that corner serving good (but pricey) Central European dishes with a touch of Polish, seven days a week, to a loyal clientele.

Ryszardt and Helena Borowka and their son Sylvester have owned Continental Treat from the beginning. Elizabeth Palmowski has long run the kitchen.

The Continental Treat has a dreamy, timeless quality. You could walk into the soothing restaurant — no clatter here — at any time from 1950 to today, and not felt out of place. A picture of Robert Goulet hangs on its wall of fame.

The strength, or the weakness, of the approach is that the menu itself hasn’t changed. In fancy wedding-invitation script are dishes I’ve not seen in years — shrimp in cognac, escargot in white wine, tomato cocktail salad, filet mignon (beef tenderloin) with different sauces.

There’s a reason Continental Treat has always stayed just off the radar. The food is good, but not great.

This is a kitchen that does not like change. The “Vienna” schnitzel was likely perfected 20 years ago, with scoops of beet, carrot and dill/cucumber salad, lemon slice on top, pan-fried potatoes under the meat. Nothing about the dish has likely changed.

That said, several Continental Treat standbys are classics in their own right.

The “pickle soup” lives up to its reputation, a steaming, fresh cream of potato with chopped veggies, infused with pickle bits and a touch of pickle brine. Nobody else attempts this soup. It’s delicious!

The escargots were a lovely surprise, served out of shell in a soupy wine and cream mix with flavour-packed wild mushrooms.

The apple strudel was everything a dessert should be — the texture was perfect, not too softy-fresh but not stale, an apple filling from scratch with just the right accessories — a few raspberries, mint leaves, ice cream and decadent, freshly whipped cream.

But the reason Continental Treat never cracks the city’s Top 20 dining experiences lies in gentle short-comings in its other dishes.

The above-mentioned “Vienna” schnitzel, for instance, came with pounded and then breaded veal or chicken. The breading was delicious — crisp and light. But, other than texture, there was precious little to tell the bland meats apart. The traditional cheese and potato pierogis (perogies) were fresh but lacked character. The French onion soup was perfect on top — browned and sizzling cheese propped up on fresh bread — but the broth was bland. One would have expected the beef stroganoff to be dancing in paprika and bold, rich Eastern European flavours. It was not.

There are other dishes I will eventually return to Continental Treat to try — a Polish tripe soup, the Dutch herrings, German pork chop, and even a filet mignon in a wonderful old-world sauce. Not to mention its extensive selection of European beers.

There’s a fine line between the don’t-mess-with-tradition and the need for change. Continental Treat is wonderful in respecting the traditional, but can’t stay there forever. Or can it?

For reasons I don’t understand — the restaurant itself is very clean — the Continental Treat windows are always dirty. Their dusty condition deters passers-by from dropping in. A weekly window cleaning, especially on the exterior, would make a world of difference.

Restaurant notes

• Generational change: Our dear friend Harmeet Kapur is retiring and has sold the New Asian Village (Saskatchewan Drive). Harmeet’s daughters and in-laws continue to own and operate the city’s other New Asian Villages — West End, Mill Woods, Sherwood Park, St. Albert and Manning Crossing.