It is always interesting to observe how the neighborhoods transform. I wrote in early October about the gentle makeover of North Hyde Park, affectionately known as “NoHo”. Now, a little over a month later, I’m back because at the corner of avenue Rome and rue Fig there is a good world bistro named after the intersection. We arrive at dusk, find an adjacent parking lot, and are fortunate enough to be seated on the beautiful fenced grass patio with heaters to warm the cool fall air as temperatures drop below 70 ° and the Floridians feel the “thrill”. Owners Eric and Kristine Zostant have created an inviting space that includes an open plan kitchen and ‘coastal chic’ dining area with a large glass door that blurs the edge from inside and out.
The drinks menu offers a small handful of inventive cocktails that change with the seasons. The wines mirror the global bistro with some of my California favorites namely Ridge, J Vineyards and Conundrum, a unique white blend that is always a chameleon to match. My companion has “Autumn Orchard,” a delicious seasonal concoction that is served with a colorful fall maple leaf attached to the lip of the cup-shaped stemmed glass with a mini clothespin.
First, we have our eye on the delicious Thai curry soup with Scottish salmon, green curry and a garnish of papaya-pepper relish. However, while bonding with our smiling and always attentive waiter, we decide that the heat may be too much for my table mate. Spices are not everyone’s jam.
Executive Chef Rob Scott offers other mouthwatering options to start your meal. But, we often opt for tuna tartare or crab cakes, and if the fried green tomatoes as a base of caprese are indeed tempting – especially with a drizzle of truffle oil – the eye and the palate of my partner arise elsewhere. Lean buffalo meatballs in a chewy polenta tinged with asago and thyme gets our vote. What surprises is the marinara which has a smart and flavorful addition of smoked strawberry that adds seductive notes of grace. The twin meatballs are huge and sparkle under thin shreds of freshly grated Parmesan cheese and a garnish of crispy fried basil leaves. The orbs themselves are indeed skinny, but they are the tastiest. The question is one of density. My personal preference is for the light meatballs with breadcrumbs and ricotta, but they are hearty and substantial with a well-balanced seasoning. Just be aware that the texture is compact.
Starters feature old favorites with a twist, like rum-brined duck breast or scallops in champagne and lemon butter. No longer the ever popular beef tenderloin, but this one is grass fed. We finally settle on the lamb loin, sliced and tiled next to a sweet celeriac purée with a croissant of elegant demi-glace with port. The meat is tender, but cooked to our preferred temperature, which just shouldn’t happen in an experienced kitchen. The toppings are three shades of delicious sweet heirloom carrots in a cute honey dill frosting with a bunch of crispy shallots in a paste resembling tiny onion rings.
My choice is the creamy risotto, which is always a dish to check the technique of the kitchen. Rome & Fig offers chicken, salmon or shrimp (if you crave protein too), but I don’t want to be distracted by the basic flavors. The rice is perfectly al dente and creamy with mascarpone. It’s sprinkled with sliced, earthy cremini mushrooms and flavored with roasted garlic and gastric apricot swirls. There are delicious candied pecans scattered around, but the encrusted peach cubes aren’t quite ripe so they look more like chunks of pineapple on the palate. And the green peas promised on the menu are a no show. Ultimately, this makes the dish need the oomph that the aforementioned protein would add.
The dessert quartet all look seductive – variations on a flourless chocolate cake and a hot pan-fried blondie. They swapped out the peach pancake which is listed on the online menu (due, I’m sure, to a lack of ripe peaches), so we’re heading for the pumpkin creme brulee – hey, that is the taste of autumn even if you don’t have the leaves falling to “drift out the window”. The round ramekin is large and sports a perfectly flamed sugar crust that is thick and evenly distributed. I love the sound of the crackle as your spoon breaks the surface to scoop up the delicious custard underneath. The pumpkin isn’t assertive and the texture is just delicious. My partner prefers it without the frills, but I like the addition of candied nuggets that garnish a separate dish with cinnamon whipped cream that you can add to taste.
All in all, it’s a good meal from top to bottom. The service couldn’t be better, the environment is extremely pleasant, and despite a few quibbles, I can’t wait to return at my own expense.
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