I fall in love with Bistro 218 at first bite!

By Jan Walsh

Photography by Beau Gustafson

Downtown Birmingham now boasts another fab, fine dining restaurant. Bistro Two Eighteen incorporates local and regional food products with the culinary styles of traditional French Bistro and modern American. The restaurant opened in November 2012, at 218 20th Street North. And tonight is my first experience.

The Place
A valet awaits our car at the front door. And the host opens the door for us to enter. The storefront building dates to the 1880s and has been a boarding house, barbershop, candy store and more in its rich history. The restaurant has a warm and welcoming ambiance. The two-story dining room is flanked by exposed brick on each side wall lit by glowing sconces. Tables, appointed with crisp, white tablecloths, fresh flower stems, and candlelight, line the left wall’s long banquette, which wraps itself onto the back wall. Here a staircase leads upstairs to the bar, which is being finished at press time. The restaurant is open for lunch, Tuesday through Friday from 11:00 – 2:00 and dinner Tuesday through Saturday 5:00 – until.

The People
Chef and owner Tom Saab—a Birmingham native—graduated summa cum laude from Johnson and Wales and has years of culinary experience, including stints at country clubs and resorts. Saab is a humble chef who prefers to be in the kitchen with a philosophy that the focus should be on the food—not the chef. Here he takes common, local foods, applies advanced culinary techniques and creates magic. French food deserves great wine. And sommelier, David Manning recently passed the Level II Certified Sommelier course of The Court of Master Sommeliers.  His additions to the wine list and plans for the bar upstairs are a lovely match to the restaurant’s cuisine. And pastry chef, Nina Jones’ talents are tasted on the dessert menu.

Favorite Fare
We begin dinner with soft, fresh baked olive bread and French bread—with generous helpings of butter and glasses of L'Arpent des Vaudon Sauvignon Blanc 2011 and Barco de Piedras 2010. I would come here just to eat this delicious bread. Looking over the dinner menu, we find it difficult to choose among the starters. So we order a tasting of it all: Duck Rillettes, Mini Crab Cake Sandwiches, Pommes Frites, and Steamed Mussels! The delectable Duck Rillettes are served with pickled vegetables, whole grain mustard and grilled French bread in traditional charcuterie style. The crab cake sandwiches are house-made, slider-sized buns encasing golden cakes plump full of flaky white crab and little else—just the way I like them. Crisp, hot frites—with house aioli for dipping—are a must have accompaniment for this dish. And the mussels are hot and succulent, tender and moist, with their broth adding buttery flavor.

After eating the entire starters menu, we skip the soups and salads list. But next time I look forward to catching their gumbo, chowder and the BLT salad with farm egg. From the “Specialties” list we order entrees of Beef Short Ribs Bourguignon and Pan Seared Gulf Grouper. The plateful of beef is served hot and steaming, with tender and earthy root vegetables of baby carrots, potato, and onions basting in its jus. The Pan Seared Gulf Grouper is also large in portion. A gorgeous, thick piece of milky white grouper rests atop a plate of scrumptious creamed corn and a tasty lemon butter sauce, with fried leeks as an accompaniment.

For dessert, we indulge in a heavenly plate of Profiteroles—creamy puffs with chocolate sauce. So what’s not to love about my first dinner at Bistro 218? Not a thing.

Published, B-Metro magazine, May 2013

Categories: Fine Dining, Reviews
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