There’s an important difference between abundance and excess. One means much. The other merely more. Well, excess is on full display at Oak Street Bistro in Alfred this month. The restaurant is lavishly decorated with garland and lights and wreaths and ornaments and ribbons and painted toy soldiers (you get the picture), plus an elaborate creche near the front door that includes airborne angels, wise men, camels – and one very tall palm tree.

And that’s not all. More Christmas decorations, yes, but also more reproduction Tiffany-style lamps (I counted 15 hanging from the ceiling in one dining room), more customers (there’s seating for 220) and more food (the servings are generous, and the detailed dinner menu of American favorites fills both sides of a very long, laminated card.) What’s missing in the midst of all this color and extravagance is creativity and consistency. A few of the appetizers and desserts are good, but most of the food is predictable and bland.

Take the order of French onion soup ($6.99), which arrives in a familiar crock filled with dark brown (as it turns out, watery) broth that’s studded with bits of onion and shrouded, as required, by a thick layer of hot, melting cheese. Plunge your spoon through the bubbling blanket and you discover … less. Less taste, less depth and less flavor. It’s definitely warming – and who doesn’t like melted cheese? – but that’s about it.

A serving of fried haddock ($16.99) proves much the same. The fish looks appealing enough: the large fillet is golden brown and served atop a generous portion of French fries, but neither the fish nor the spuds have much flavor. The haddock is dry and seriously under-seasoned and the spuds soggy and in desperate need of salt. (Had the kitchen mistakenly brought out a low-sodium plate?) Even the tartar sauce is tasteless.

Perhaps, you think, one of the weeknight specials will be a smarter choice? “I understand that the chef’s chicken piccata ($17.99) is excellent tonight,” our waiter announces. He’s enthusiastic and polite, but slightly harried (it takes 25 minutes to get the glasses of wine we ordered) and, it seems, woefully ill-informed. The touted special arrives with an enormous serving of overcooked penne, and is distinctly gummy – as if the chef has dredged each piece of poultry in far too much flour and forgotten to shake off the excess.

The tables all around us are full. The enormous bar is packed with customers. Diners don’t seem to mind the two wall-mounted televisions that are switched to different channels – one broadcasting a movie and the other a football game.

There’s lots to look at and plenty to listen to – a gifted pianist playing standards and holiday tunes in the corner also takes requests – but this evening is a definite disappointment. Walking past that intricate crèche, a friend says, “Maybe the staff puts all of their energy into decorating and simply skimps on the food prep?”

I mulled this over for a few days and decided to head back, this time early on a Sunday evening when most restaurants are quiet, the distractions are limited and it’s easy to get a table. And to my happy surprise this visit had more of what must make Oak Street popular with locals. The televisions were silent. The holiday music was piped in (the pianist apparently had the night off), and we found a few winning appetizers and desserts.

Consider the crusted scallops and bacon ($12.99). They’re plump, tender and wonderfully salty. (In keeping with the bistro’s unspoken More Is More theme, each scallop is wrapped with so much bacon that you can hardly spy the shellfish beneath.)

Crunching into the sweet, juicy packets, I couldn’t help but smile and think, “They know about flavor. They’ve just been hiding it.” A taste of the clam chowder ($4.99) – thick and chock-full of chopped clams, chopped celery, potato chunks and flavor – confirmed it.

Unfortunately, the entrees we tried on our second visit were as prosaic as those from round one. A burger ($11.99) with cheddar and jack cheeses, bacon, caramelized onions, lettuce and tomato was underseasoned and underwhelming, and the pile of accompanying sweet potato fries ($1.50) far from crisp. Parmesan-crusted salmon ($19.99) was crisper, but like so much else here, the fish cried out for salt.

The waitress Sunday night noted that all desserts are housemade, so, twist our arms, we went ahead and tried a hot fudge brownie sundae ($5.99). That celebration of indulgence – a chocolate chunk-filled brownie, a scoop of vanilla ice cream and an enormous ladle of hot fudge sauce – was pretty good. (If more than enough for the average diner, it’s perfect for two. Finally, a case where more really is more.)

Oak Street Bistro has a warm, welcoming atmosphere – especially at the holidays. There’s plenty of parking, plenty to ogle and plenty to try. But little stands out amid the excess. Too much for most of us? Yes. Too much of a good thing? Sadly, no.

James H. Schwartz has covered food, travel and architecture for The Washington Post, Downeast, Coastal Living and Southern Living magazines. He received the Maine Press Association’s First Place Critic’s Award in 2015.