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New Bistro in Fresno

I decided to return to the Torta Express, a sandwich shop that Polar Bear talked about some time ago. I liked it, but it's just outside of the area I travel around in so I've only been there twice. It was at the SW corner of Shaw and First St--Mission Village I think the center is called. Anyway, it's gone. Now there's a sit down, full-service restaurant called Cracked Pepper Bistro (iirc). There was no menu in the window and the sign said open from 5:30 to 10PM, but there were several people inside around noon.

Has anyone tried it? The center is mostly Asian, with one Mexican restaurant, but I'm not at all sure what type of cuisine this new Bistro serves.

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  1. Hubby and I saw that Torta Express had closed as well. We were so disapointed that we just left without really checking out the new place. So thanks for the reminder to at least give this new place a chance. It does seem like a weird place to have a "bistro", but stranger things have happened!

    1. Talked to a couple of fellow hounds last night that we dine with quite often who had been there earlier this week. Yes, it's called Cracked Pepper Bistro, and they had nothing but good things to say about it. They started with a napoleon of eggplant, tomato, and feta cheese (iirc), shared a Caesar salad, and had the filet and a fish dish for entrees. They also said the service was top notch.

      1. Talk about a great restaurant. The food and service is out of site. It's like dining in your own home. The added touches and creativity add to the food and the atmosphere of dining. Escargot is excellent and the filet mignon is out of this world. We had warm bread and sweet butter with a hint of jalapeno and honey. Just right and we will definitely recommend that you try this experience. We will be back. THe chef and his helpers really add kindness to the experience.

        1. How are the prices? Do they have wine? It sounds great.

          1. Since this thread is only about 3 weeks old, thought I'd experiment by adding to it, then follow up with comments to an older thread (on La Cabana in North Fork, Fresno area) by starting a new one and see which method seems to work best (much contention on the Site Talk board, re the pros & cons).

            Stopped by Cracked Pepper Bistro (formerly Torta Express) for lunch last week on recos from a couple of non-CH foodies, and pressure from the local hounds for more detailed sniffing.

            RE the food, can only report that the Mala-Ipsana Napoleon (9.00), pumpkin seed encrusted eggpland w/ goat cheese, oven roasted tomatoes and pesto misted w/ aged (15yr) balsamic (menu disclaimer: "Eating this possibly leads to madness") is absolutely fantastic. Three rounds of perfectly grilled egglant stacked and layered with the cheese, tomato and pesto, on a bed of beautiful mixed greens. I came in with the intention of having an app and either salad or entree, but a brief discussion with the young personable waiter convinced me that this was rich enough and would be sufficient for lunch on a warmish day. It was perfect, great balance of flavors and the richness was offset by the greens and balsamic reduction. The bread that comes to the table was excellent, sorry, neglected to determine the source.

            The prices seem on the high side, but I think the program is to go with another person, or as two couples and share. For example, half the Napoleon and half a salad or entree, would be more than filling and stay within a $10-15 range pp, or even split the Napoleon four ways and divy up a few other choices for two couples.

            I spoke at some length with Chef Vatche (me..."What's your first name Chef?" he... "Vatche", me... "oh, sorry, what's your last name?"... he "Moukhtarian", me... "Well then, Vatche..."). Chef V is one of the most cordial people you'd ever want to meet, and his staff is well-trained and reflects his attitude in providing the best possible dining experience in his power for his clientele. I mentioned the potential for parking problems during the lunch hours, he was well aware and said they were experimenting to see if they could provide a nice alternative for the surrounding area, noting that they don't do takeout and are basically targeting those that are not on a strict 45 minute lunch break. (Note: I arrived before noon and was able to be on my way shortly after 12:30. The real focus here is on dinner, as in most retail centers, there's plenty of parking after 5-6 pm.

            Chef V is in the process of applying for a beer-wine license, not sure how long that will take, but in the meantime, there is no corkage fee. I suggested that he strike up a friendship with Stan across the street at the Grape Tray and arrange to put on some wine pairing dinners (also went across the street and talked to Stan afterward telling him he really needs to go and have lunch at CPB.

            Menu and prices:

            I get the feeling that Vatche will prepare dinner items for lunch if possible and vice-versa. I'm really impressed that his escargot are available during the day.

            Lunch:

            Escargot 116 (10.00), w/ lemon ginger beurre blanc and Asian pear jicama beet salad (was told he's serving these on toast points rather than in the shell to encourage the more squeamish among us, well NOT among the hounds anyway).

            Pan Seared Crab Cake (12.00) on a field of cucumber & red onion salad, finished with basil garlic aioli.

            Grilled Insalata Caprese (8.00) fresh mozzarella, ripe tomatoes lightly grilled, skewered w/ cruchy bagettes

            Salads: Three choices Caesar, Poached Pear or Mixed Greens (9,9 and 7, resp.)

            Entrees:

            Mediterranean Rosemary Seared Chicken Breast (15), over roasted fingerling potatoes and vegies

            Chef's Cut Bistro Tender (Beef, 14), romaine hearts tossed in a shepher's feta cheese drressing finished with aged balsamic, carmelized onions and roasted red peppers

            Vegetarian Pasta (13), summer vegies, Calamata olives and goat cheese, tossed with baby penette.

            FOR DINNER:

            There's an additional app of Beef Carpaccio (11), a NY 5 Peppercorn Steak (28), Achiote Glazed Pork Tenderloin (27), a Cracked Pepper Shrimp Penette (21), Pappardelle (26), creamy vanilla orchid vodka bacon sauce with pan seared scallops, and currently a Halibut filet (27), rice paper en papilote w/ lemon-garlic butter w/ sweet corn risotto and fresh veggies.

            PB & Friends say check it out:

            Cracked Pepper Bistro
            389 W. Shaw Ave
            559-222-9119
            http://www.crackedpepperbistro.com

            [Edited to add:] Sorry, forgot to mention the dramatic change in ambiance (due surely to my descriptive ineptitude in this area) from the former stark well-lighted space. I don't usually pay much attention, but they have done such a striking job, six white table cloth four-tops in the central area with a long leather (?) bench along the east wall that comprises another four areas for four people (Vatche says that customers along the wall tend to not want to go anywhere in a hurry). The color scheme is most pleasing, what I recall most is the red-plum (my take, have no clue as to the correct nomenclature) wall on the east, contrasted with the other rich colors to the west and south. IIRC, the paintings have some black characteristics that contrast without being out front, giving (at least on my part) a most pleasant feel. Chef V did mention that they had to redo the HVAC system to provide more air to the dining space, since they had to do this during 110+ F degree weather, I imagine the space will be comfortable from now on, it was when I had lunch the other day.

            2 Replies
            1. re: PolarBear

              Very nice report, PB. I think it is a great follow-up to he original posting in this thread, but it would also stand on its own, as the starter of a new thread.

              If I were in your neighborhood I think I could handle those prices, they seem reasonable for the items, as long as they are tied to quality ingredients and are executed well. It's nice to know that if and when the Mrs. and I get back to Fresno, that we might find some nice choices to pick from. The beef tenderloin sounds promising as do the fish dishes.

              1. re: PolarBear

                I had an opportunity to visit CPB last Friday and I have to say the escargot is teriffic. At first we were a little put off by the "no shells" presentation, but one taste convinced us otherwise. The escargot, along with the eggplant are both "must trys". We had halibut as a main and it was really nice, as well.

                I hope all "Hounds" will give it a try.

              2. PB: Thanks for the report. I'm currently in Calgary, sampling Western Canada cuisine but look forward to getting back to Fresno to try the CPB. It really sounds like an "out of Fresno" experience. Actually, the lack of a liquor license sounds really attractive--like Rousseau used to be.I really like taking my own wine.

                1. Glad to see this thread.

                  Just talked with a traveler to the SLO area; he bemoaned the lack of good dining in Fresno so I scribbled CH's address and handed it to him. He seened rather depressed about the condition of the dining scene there; hope he has come and seen this report! It is wonderfully detailed!

                  tj

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: toodie jane

                    Good work, TJ! Hope he does a search on this board for Fresno as well. We have a rep (deservedly) as a test bed for the national chains and driving through checking out the mega-malls they do seem to dominate. But thanks to CH a little pre-visit research reveals so many options. Fine dining: Chef's Table, Slates, Ripe Tomato, Limelite, Campagnia's, La Paella, Upstairs/Downtown, Parma, Giulia's, Five, and now Fleming's (I hear stepping inside you're not in the central valley anymore). What I like even more is the abundance of ethnic choices, from the more "upscale" toward the north end to the little markets and dives in the central and south areas. If you're not eating well here, well you're just not trying.

                    1. re: PolarBear

                      that's the spirit! I hope he has checked chowhound! If I lived anywhere near there, I'd be all over this list. thanks.

                  2. Fresno has some great spots...I think it makes it even more fun when you can bring someone to a place like Fresno and take them to some cool spots. It totally can change their mind about a place like Fresno and the chow opportunities!

                    1. They were out at the Fig Festival last Saturday. Their samples were quite yummy, and their menu looked great. I'm anxious to check it out for myself

                      1. PB, I may be wrong but I believe Vatche used to cook at Parma a couple of years ago. If I'm thinking of the same person he spent some tims in SF, came to Fresno, worked there, and then started a catering business.

                        I had heard about this place from some family friends (Armenian) and tried to go one Monday but it was closed. Need to try again apparently.

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: tavmark

                          You're probably correct, tavmark. I do recall him mentioning the Bay area and also think he mentioned Tenaya Lodge. He also said he spent a year working with the culinary school here in Fresno (sorry, blanking on the name) that was/is located near the airport. The chefs in training serve lunch Tues-Fri to the public in their restaurant (used to be Hill's Fire bbq place years ago).

                        2. PB, is the school on the corner of Chestnut/Willow and Dakota(?).. I'm pretty sure it's Chestnut, just not sure of the cross street. (And your post makes me laugh because I've been here 10 years and I find it's very common to say, hey it's where the old [inser name here] used to be, which also tends to show how long you've been in Fresno. And sorry, but I don't remember Hill's Fire BBQ.

                          2 Replies
                          1. re: tavmark

                            The times I went it was on the east side of Gateway just as it makes the curve north of McKinley. I have a vague recollection that they may have moved. I'll do a little research and post back.

                            1. re: PolarBear

                              Tavmark, I've posted the results from today's search here:

                              http://www.chowhound.com/topics/show/...

                              Cheers,

                              Dave

                          2. Cracked Pepper Bistro will apparently ONLY be open for lunch by reservation for groups of 15 or more. Vatche (or one of his staff) posted a short msg last night thanking everyone for their patronage and attending the Fig gig and stating their new format.

                            Not sure why the mods had to remove it, he wasn't promoting himself, merely advising. I know I'd be PO'd driving across town for lunch to find it closed. Chefs have been allowed to comment on certain things in the past, this seems like a valuable piece of information.

                            In any event, it's a nice KITA to get by for dinner and try the escargot and filet.

                            1. Thanks PB for the info on the culimary school. I need to go check it out.

                              1. I also need to say that this palce is excellent. This was my chouce for my birthday dinner Saturday night. There were six of us. Honestly, if you go, you do have to try the eggplant appetizer. It is wonderful. I typically do not order eggplant because of a texture issue - if's it's slimy, my whole meal sort of goes downhill. This, however, was definitely not.

                                Our group ordered three appetizers- the aforementioned eggplant dish, the carpachhio, and the tomato one (it comes on a skewer.) Hands down, the eggplant was the best. The carpacchio was so-so (IMHO Olives at Bellagio has the best carpacchio I have ever had) and I didn't get to sample the tomato but was told it was okay.

                                For dinner, two had the filet - which was excellent, one ordered the pork, one the chicken, and the other two of us had the scallops with pasta. I thought the filet wsa the best, followed by the pork and chicken. The sauce on the scallops was very good, but it must have been one of those, "this sounds good, but my appetite was in a different place."

                                Dessert was chocolate molten lava cake, bread pudding, and chocolate mousse. The lava cake is decadent. If you like dark chocolate, order this one - I do, but two spoonfuls was enough. The bread pudding was excellent. The mousse, just didn't compare to the other two.

                                We brought our own wine as my understanding is Vatche does not have a liquor license. All in all, the group loved this place. It seats only 40 max. It was not crowded that night (only three tables full) but my SIL had been the night before and said it was completely full and there was a wait for tables to open.

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: tavmark

                                  Thanks for the great follow-up report, tavmark. Good to hear that Vatche may have found/created a niche for himself there.

                                2. After searching this message board for recommendations, we chose the Cracked Pepper Bistro for a long overdue night out. Originally, I was thinking Indian food, which I adore. My husband on the other hand, wanted to "go out for dinner" rather than "go out and get something to eat". I have to say that I'm happy that he held out for "dinner". The entire experience was wonderful. Our server was both cordial and attentive. After reading the above comments, we started with crab cake and the eggplant. The crab cakes were flavorful and delicate. Quite delicious. We were not at all prepared for how truly fabulous the eggplant turned out to be! I can't even describe it to you all. My husband had the Filet of beef which was like butter! I had the Shrimp and pasta which was also delicious. We finished off with coffee which was nice, french press. Said no to chocolate mousse and bread pudding. We had filled up on bread with their wonderful goat cheese encrusted in pistachio nuts.

                                  The chef came out and spoke to each table. He was so nice and genuine. Often times, fine dining can be a pretentious ordeal but this was a lovely experience. Their entire staff was so welcoming, not in the least bit snooty. I encourage everyone to try the Cracked Pepper Bistro. They are open for dinner only. It was a wonderful meal!

                                  1. You all are the greatest! Vatche is a great guy and is doing a great job. He used to be at Quality College, which is located at Fine just north of McKinley. He left there, as did Chef Emery Bish, now at PELCO, and Chef David Samano, now at the new Palms Restaurant on Alluvial. He too is doing a great job, though the restaurant is a bit more traditional than Cracked Pepper. Beautiful decor, great service and the food hits the mark. Fresno has a lot to offer in the culinary field, so keep supporting us and our product will keep getting better and better.

                                    My former student at Quality, Beverly Torrez-Petty, is the new pastry chef at Erna's in Oakhurst, and another of my students (from IOT), Edward Martinez, is the pastry chef at Slates. If you are looking for great bakery items, Chef Willem sold out at De Bakkerij and the new owner Thierry has renamed the place "Thierry's". He is on the west end of Bullard and his baked goods are magnificient. He has already expanded the space to include some bistro seating. It is well worth watching as he is very service and quality conscious. Another former student, Juan Pineda, is at Thierry's doing a good work with the baked items. Well, boys, it looks like the next generation is upon us, and it looks good!

                                    2 Replies
                                    1. re: Ladycake

                                      I look forward to trying Thierry's, but I have to say that we'll miss De Bakkerij. Used to live out on the Figarden Loop and my wife really enjoyed the blueberry scones and I really liked the cherry turnovers. We also enjoyed visiting with the folks working the counter and in the kitchen. We'll miss them.

                                      1. re: alanstotle

                                        A quick note to say that hubby and I stopped by Thierry's the other day. It was late on a Saturday night, and we expected them to be closed. We just wanted to get a peek at how the new building looked. We were surprised when they were open. We were waved inside and told that they had stayed open for a last minute cake order. So we were lucky enough to have a couple of pastries. I had the pain au chocolat, wihch was rich and buttery with a decadent chocolate center. I seriously ate the whole thing in 2 minutes. Hubby had the palmier(sp), which was crispy and sugary on the outside and moist on the inside, very good. We are pretty sure that Thierry himself was helping us and he was very nice and gave us a meringue on the side. The meringue was fashioned into a basket and the basket was filled with chocolate mousse and a little meringue bird was sitting in the basket alongside some jelly bean eggs. Very cute and the meringue was perfect. I don't like those merginues that almost break your teeth. This one was crunchy but had the tiniest bit of give in it, so it didn't feel like you were eating rice cakes. Yummy!

                                        The space has been turned around a bit and now has a few tables and chairs. I think they are still in the process of re-decorating, so a little rough around the edges still. But the pastries are quite good. Hubby and I need to stop by when they are fully stocked to get a better idea of all the products he has.