Monday, February 05, 2007

No. 5 rewrite

Carlos’ Bistro

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. 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.”

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 we were glad we did. The bistro was busy. As Carlos walked us to our table, we expressed surprise at the number of diners. Lunch had apparently been 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 which had a depth of flavor with chunks of well-seasoned, pan-seared crab 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.

My husband ordered a cup of the soup and I had the spinach salad. I made the wrong choice. The salad was 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. He did refrain 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 a 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. This was a minor misstep and there were no other lapses. The pacing of the meal was comfortable and his unaffected interest in our satisfaction was an enhancement to the evening.

For dessert, my husband and I shared a crème brulee. The thin caramelized-sugar top cracked like an egg-shell when jabbed with a 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. At the end of the meal, he walked us to the door. It wasn’t just the methodically misplaced tie that commands attention, it's 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 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.


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