Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Dining critic candidate No. 5

Owner Carlos Echeandia’s necktie is thrown nonchalantly over his left shoulder. At first, it seems the fashion accessory is meant to be kept from spilling on the plates he brings to the table. As the meal progresses he stops by to check that all is well and the tie is still there. In fact, it was there when he greeted us at the door. When asked about it, he says, “I wear a tie to be formal, but if it is over my shoulder it means everyone is welcome even if they come in jeans or shorts or ties. All are welcome just as they are.” This is what they do in his home country of Peru.

The attention to detail Carlos shows in the placement of his necktie to receive diners finds its way into the menu and onto the plates.
It seemed almost silly calling for reservations one night during yet another snowstorm, but it was a good thing to do. The bistro was busy. As Carlos walked us to our table, we expressed surprise at the number of diners. He said lunch had been even busier. “We ran out of soup and the chef had to make another,” he said. “I think what he made was even better than the first. It is a thick, tomato-based soup flavored with roasted pepper and basil.”
He also recommended the Tuna Tartare appetizer. We opted instead for the crab cake. Chunks of crab in a well-seasoned, pan-seared cake sat atop a bed of greens over which ginger and soy sauce had been drizzled. A spoonful of red pepper aioli was splashed on the crab cake, which had a depth of flavor and was perfect for sharing.
My husband ordered a cup of the soup and I had the spinach salad. I made the wrong choice. The salad was very good full of large pieces of crispy bacon, sun dried tomatoes, red onion, pine nuts and a too-large mound of sprouts. Except for the latter, the ingredients complemented each other. I had immediate order envy, however, when I tasted the soup. I couldn’t convince my husband to trade; I did manage to dissuade him from licking the bowl. Even if the soup had not been so delectable, the salad, on the heels of the greens with the crab cake, was redundant.
My Seared Sea Scallops trumped his Grilled Pork Chop, though. The cut-with-a-fork scallops melted in my mouth. My husband’s pork, which sat in a shallow pool of rendered apple brandy, was moist, thick and tasty. They may have come from the same kitchen at the hands of the same chef, but the scallops were the more successful offspring.
Not only was the food delicious, but its presentation was lively and fun. Thin threads of brown sauce decorated the plate. The scallops were the points of a triangle whose middle was filled with grilled vegetables and a creamy risotto. On the side stood Parmesan cheese crisp anchored in a dollop of pureed sweet potato.
The restaurant has a full bar and nice wine list. After pouring our wine, our server neither showed us the cork nor left it on the table. He realized this small misstep when it came to bag the remainder of the bottle for us to take home. He didn’t have any other lapses. The pacing of the meal was comfortable and his unaffected interest in our contentment was an enhancement. He, too, talked about how much he had enjoyed the soup earlier in the evening. And, his tie was tucked into his shirt.
For dessert, my husband and I shared a crème brulee. The thin caramelized-sugar top cracked like an egg-shell when jabbed with the spoon to reveal the vanilla-speckled cream. A medley of berries and mound of whipped cream were almost superfluous. This was a light, rich and decadent way to end a truly enjoyable meal.
Considering the artistry of the dishes, it’s interesting that the walls of Carlos Bistro are adorned with “starving artist” style paintings. When the food arrives it’s easy to dismiss this minor character flaw.
Carlos stopped by the table several times to make sure we were “happy” – his word. Even with a restaurant full of customers, all smiling, engaged in their private conversations or savoring their meals, Carlos walked us out the door thanking us. It wasn’t just the methodically misplaced tie that commands attention, it the warmth and sincerity he exudes. It won’t be just the food that brings us back to Carlos Bistro – it’s Carlos himself, because you sense he would not serve anything less than brilliance.
Carlos Bistro
1025 S. 21st.St. 471-2905
Service: Excellent
Prices: Entrees range from $14 to $35
Menu: Continental cuisine with a trace of Asian and Mediterranean influence.
Vegetarian items are available.
The Space: One-level opening dining room with a small bar area and patio. Unimpressive décor.
Hours: Open for 11-3 for lunch; dinner 5 to 9 daily. Closed Sunday.
Other: Reservations suggested.
Overall: Four-and-a-half Plates
Five Plates: Everything clicked including service, food, presentation, ambience
and overall enjoyment.
Four Plates: A near miss of a completely enjoyable dining experience.
Three Plates: Lacking an essential component. Food may have been on the
mark, but service was slow or inconsistent.
Two Plates: One or two things may be worthwhile, but overall needs
One Plate: Sometimes hunger trumps standards.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well-written review. She made me want to go the restaurant and have my own Carlos experience.

8:17 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This critic gets my vote!

8:18 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

enough about the neck-tie..also don't refer to someone "licking" their bowl, quite the turn-off.

10:33 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I liked the neck-tie thing.

11:47 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've been to Carlos Bistro and have wondered myself about the tie -- thanks to this reviewer for setting the record straight. I enjoyed the interesting, accurate depiction of the ambience and the attention to the details of the meal. -- Great review!

2:20 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree with the person who didn't like the phrase "licking the bowl". Food critics should be very careful not to gross readers out.

3:31 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

A very well written review. I particularly liked the critic's verbage, it really spoke to a large reader audience. She also spoke to the entire experience not just the food and not just the ambience.

7:16 AM  
Anonymous Submission Reviewer said...

Good food detail bordering on too wordy. Good atmosphere detail. Too much emphasis on neckties which detracted from the pertinent information. Well done, but a bit over the top imagery.

8:38 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm confused. Is necktie a dish on the menu? I think it might be, considering how much attention was given to it.

1:11 PM  
Blogger Warren Epstein said...

FYI. "submission reviewer" is not associated with the Gazette.

10:43 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great Review! We are fan's of Carlos Bistro but did not know the tie information and I found it interesting, giving a personal view to Carlos. I thought the review was well written and accurate, enhancing my Carlos experience.

8:00 AM  

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