Valentine’s Dinner 2023
Bistro 218 woos with a special 4-course Valentine menu.
By Jan Walsh
Pulling up to Bistro 218 we are impressed by the new awning. Wow! Newcomers will not have any issues finding Bistro 218 among the other historic, downtown storefronts. With the color of an aged Cabernet Merlot blend, signage in white, and the bistro’s gold logo atop, the awning spans the width of the bar and dining room. The awning is also deep enough to cover several, new four top tables, which are decked with matching wicker chairs. Voilà, a covered sidewalk café!
Inside we are seated at our favorite window table in the front corner, where Executive Chef Tom Saab welcomes us. Tom is co-owner of Bistro 218 and Bocca Ristorante with his wife, Christina. Bistro 218’s dining room also has new seating. Tall, luxurious black, tufted leather banquettes line the brick walls. And our favorite table just got better as we are seated in the window rather than backing up to it. Punctuating the white tablecloth is an aromatic red rose, laid across my menu. And my favorite French song, “La Vie En Rose” begins to play just as we look over the extensive wine list. Spotting a bottle of Ca' del Bosco Franciacorta Cuvée Prestige, NV, I order it. As expected, the bottle is perfectly chilled. There is nothing more disappointing than a bottle of bubbly that a server attempts to chill down at the last minute. Sparkling wine bottles are thicker than other wine bottles, so this is always a futile effort, causing lackluster effervescence. Not happening in the Saabs restaurants… As the sommelier smoothly opens the bottle he asks if we have ever had the wine before. And I explain that we had glasses of this lovely wine at Bocca Ristorante. This Extra Brut blend of Chardonnay, Pinot Nero and Pinot Bianco is golden honey in color, with a creamy mousse, with notes of pear, peach, and apple, and nuances of toasty Italian bread.
Just after we toast our Valentine’s Day, we spot Tom outside helping arriving guests out of their cars. This visual image captures Tom’s humble hospitality. We have never dined here when he was not on the premises. Whether it be greeting guests, helping serve tables, overseeing or cooking in the kitchen, and tonight managing the valet traffic for his packed house, he is on top of it all.
Each Valentine’s we await the special menus before committing. And we made tonight’s dinner reservations at Bistro 218, after their Valentine’s Menu smooth talked us, when first published a few weeks ago. Part of the fun is planning and deciding what we want to order. And among the first course options, we both select Shrimp Cocktail over Tuna Tartare and Chile Honey Glazed Crispy Brussels. Our lovely large shrimp curl over the side of the glass in a classic presentation. Each shellfish is pink, shiny, crisp, and succulent, enhanced by lemon and a zingy house made cocktail sauce. A perfect start to Valentine’s.
For our second course, Compressed Asian Pear Salad and Gulf Oyster Artichoke Bisque seriously tempt. Yet Kev changes his mind from the pear salad to the Yam and Butternut Squash Rosti after I order it… Farm egg on top seemed to cinch the deal. This earthy shredded cake of shredded yam and butternut is brightened by Green Goddess, arugula, crispy parsnip. And the sunny side yolk runs into it all adding protein, richness, and another layer of savory.
For our main courses, we part ways. Kev orders Bistro 218’s famous Beef Wellington. I don’t blame him. If I were not allergic to mushrooms, I might have ordered it. But with Pan Seared Gulf Red Snapper and Risotto on the menu, perhaps not. Kev’s main course is not only tried and true at Bistro 218, Beef Wellington dates to 1815, in celebration of the first Duke of Wellington, Arthur Wellesley, an Irishman who conquered Napoleon at the Battle of Waterloo. It is not known if he ate the dish or was just the inspiration for it. If not, oh what the Duke missed! The golden, buttery, thick pastry resting in a veal glace is enough to make our mouths water. As Kev cuts through the tightly wrapped crust, deep into the layers of the Wellington, pink filet mignon in mushroom is revealed. Melt in the mouth tender steak and earthy, buttery duxelles blanketed in the marvelous crust is a meal fit for a king. My thick cut, skin on, delicate red snapper glistens with colors of the sunset on a bed creamy risotto. And as I cut each bite, the risotto catches the fish like a creamy net, pasting its plump grains to the sweet, nutty snapper. I could write volumes about Chef Tom’s risotto. Actually, I already have… written rave reviews about his risotto both here and at Bocca. And I have never found better. Rounding out the dish is an oven dried tomato, adding touches of color, acidity, and juiciness. Duck Confit was also a main option. And although I did not opt for it tonight, from experience, I highly recommend it as well.
For dessert, my honey selects the Honey Lemon Cake, and the Flourless Chocolate Raspberry Torte wins my heart. Kev’s cake presents like a cheesecake, cuts like a pound cake, and tastes like a sweet tart.
My cake is deep, dark, and rich, not too bitter, not too sweet, just the perfect chocolate for Valentine’s.
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