The global economy is broken, and it’s unlikely that all the ragged pieces will ever be put back together again. As such, downsizing has become more than a necessity. It’s an upgrade. Making do with less can actually be liberating.

Case in point: Palo Alto’s Bistro Elan. For more than 15 years, the classic Cal/French bistro was a mainstay on California Street, but owners Ambjorn Lindskog and Andrea Hyde tired of steadily rising rents, so they left. But they didn’t go far. The restaurant has been reborn just a few blocks away as Birch Street.

In addition to the simple but well-executed food at Bistro Elan, what I loved about the old restaurant was its clean, starched white cotton and stainless-steel aesthetic. The restaurant didn’t chase trends. Lindskog and Hyde seem to have bottled the essence of the old place and walked it over to Birch Street, boiling it down to a savory reduction.

Bistro Elan on Birch Street, or just Birch Street as most people call it, is a stripped-down version of the old restaurant. It’s smaller by half. There’s no backyard patio.

The tiny restaurant has less than a dozen tables inside and a half-dozen or more outside on the patio. The new space feels more modern with its glass, white-brick and brushed-aluminum accents. On the downside, those hard surfaces and the open kitchen at the center of it all can make the dining room clangy and loud. How about some baffles on the ceiling to soften the noise? But in spite of that, Birch Street feels lighter and fresher. Better? Maybe.

Meals begin with a little complimentary tidbit. On my dinner visit, it was a dab of smoked salad astride a house-made potato chip. Just as I recognize some of the same faces from the old place, several dishes reappear here, too. I remember the name-brand Kashiwase peach and La Quercia prosciutto salad ($13.75) from before, and it’s just as wonderfully salty, sweet and delicious as ever.

The avocado Dungeness salad ($14) is another winner that made the trip down the street. Thin slices of avocado conceal a barely dressed mound of sweet crabmeat enlivened with julienned Gravenstein apples and a scattering of roasted pistachios and chives sliced so thin they could be worn as a ladybug’s bracelet. 

Best of all the starters I tried were the gazpacho ($9.50) and tomato salad ($13.75). A colder-than-normal summer meant it took tomatoes a few weeks longer to hit their prime, but as evidenced by these two dishes tomatoes have arrived in the all their umami-packed glory.

Birch Street is one of the few sources for BN Ranch beef, a new company started by Bill Niman after he left Niman Ranch. The flat-iron steak ($28) with b–arnaise sauce and simple tomato salad is classic of Bistro Elan and bistro fare in general. The thin crispy fries were good but warm, not hot.

Not everything I tried was a repeat of what I’ve had before. The Greek salad ($15.50) with tiny lamb meatballs was outstanding, a fresh mix of romaine lettuce, sliced radishes and thin, crispy slices of Japanese eggplant paired with moist meatballs and a creamy feta cheese sauce/dressing.

The black-pepper-dusted albacore ($15.75) is pan-sized but still pink in the middle and served on a bed of roasted chiogga beets, red onions and cherry tomatoes that glisten like a garnet and ruby-colored jewels. Simple. Fresh. Delicious.

The wine list has plenty to recommend from California and France (a glass of the Sancerre rose La Louee Sylvain Bailly 2010 was just the thing for a hot night), but I wish there were more offerings by the glass. There are just a few for each category and only one Cabernet Sauvignon. But there are several half-bottles that I guess split the difference between a bottle and a glass. Service is crisp and professional and still a little cool.

The least-impressive part of the menu were the desserts (all $7.75). I remember better offerings at the Bistro Elan of old. At Birch Street, there’s an uninspired lineup of the usual suspects: ice cream, a brownie, profiteroles and spongy carrot cake. But given the quality of the food that precedes the sweet stuff and Birch Street’s lighter step that’s easy to forgive. These are interesting times and a table at Birch Street is a great place to ponder it all.