BYERS STREET BISTRO
This is the sort of restaurant you’d always want near to wherever you live. Good service, a definite nice vibe, interesting room and food packed with flavour. Translate that into any culture and got a successful restaurant. The ground floor is mainly bar and restaurant tables for walk-ins. Upstairs it’s mainly tables for reservations - we’d reserved.
The menu is eclectic and imaginative. The sort of menu that makes you wonder whether the chef can carry it off. Well, s/he can. There was starter described as “spring rolls”. But these were not the spring rolls of east asia. Here, the rolls were thickish pastry, encasing smoked chicken, cheese, peppers and a black bean/ corn/chilli salsa affair. And there was more heat in a chipotle cream dressing. I loved it.
My partner started with a “special” – papas rellenos – a potato and beef croquettes served with lemon/garlic aioli and baby rocket. Both of these starters were very generous portions and not far off being main course sizes for we two greedy diners.
But we pressed on to tackle the actual main courses. Scallops had been given a rub of hot spices and then seared. They came with a hash of sweet potato, smoked bacon, shallot and baby spinach. It all came together really well.
Low country salmon showed the chef knows how to cook fish with precision. This was a large fillet, which remained just translucent in the middle. It sat on top of the accompaniments which, truth be told, were something of a mush. This was not an elegant dish and, perhaps, with an ingredient or two more than really needed. There were fried green tomatoes, smoked andouille sausage, jambalaya risotto and a squash chow-chow. But everything had pretty much mixed together on the plate. It tasted fantastic in spite of looking like the dog’s breakfast. It would have better with fewer, simpler ingredients
We were much too full for dessert. At the time of eating this meal, we’d been in America for 17 nights. This had to be right up there as a contender for most enjoyable food of the trip so far.
The restaurant offers a traditional menu format or, alternatively, a five course tasting menu of dishes from the main menu, presumably in smaller portions. We rarely go for a tasting menu these days, finding the three course format more to our tastes and it was no exception here. What appealed and contributed to us deciding to visit the restaurant was its commitment to local produce and many dishes refer to their Virginian provenance.
My partner & I often talk about what we might like to eat in a restaurant. And it’s become something of a standing joke to say we’d like to start with a nice slice of quiche. But it’s rare to see quiche offered on a menu, so it was pretty much inevitable that one of us would order the crab tartlet. Crisp pastry, filled with a soft, rich crabby affair, topped with a seafood veloute. Really nice.
The other starter included slices of roast pork belly. Flavoursome meat, with crisp crackling. Alongside, roasted tomatoes with thyme were delicious. The menu description said there were eggs in there somehow, but they couldn’t be detected.
My main was a simple dish of shrimp and grits. Now, I confess to not being a great fan of grits. It’s not food from my culture so, periodically, I order it on visits to America, to emphasise the foreignness of the trip. In themselves, the shrimp and grist were good. Served on top of them were some roasted sprigs of tenderstem broccoli, which had a whack of iron in them, which contrasted nicely with the sweetness of the shrimp. There were also a couple of deep fried onion rings which were fine, if incongruous. My only complaint here is that it was served in a bowl. To my mind, a bowl is fine for soup or pasta but nothing else benefits being served in one, as opposed to a plate.
Also in a bowl was my partner’s slow roast pork. This was really delicious meat, served with white beans, unknown greens and a cornbread scone. Like the other dish, it was a faff to eat but tasted delicious. However – and it quite a big “however” – the very large quantity of pork (perhaps a pound of it) completely overwhelmed to other ingredients. It made for a very unbalanced dish that it started to become a chore to eat (I even helped out a bit but also gave up). We’re used to seeing such large portions in lower end American restaurants, but were surprised to see it in a place higher up the pecking order. Such a shame that the pig gave its life, only for half of its meat to be thrown away.
It also meant that we were too full to order separate desserts (so the restaurant lost out twice – that and in the cost of the overly generous pig). We did, however, share a butternut squash brulee. Never had squash in a dessert that we could recall. This was well made with a lovely crisp top and the squash giving an intriguing balance to the sweetness of the custard.
Perhaps we should have ordered the tasting menu after all.
I quite liked the look of this place, on Beverley Street, as soon as we walked in. It’s a modern, quite elegant, room with cheery staff. Unfortunately, with the exception of a largish party that was just leaving, there were only two other customers. Means, of course, that there was absolutely no atmosphere or vibe to the room.
A salad course is included, so we felt no need to order starters. It was, however, quite perfunctory – just lettuce, a couple of cherry tomatoes, tinned tangerine segments (most odd) and an indifferent “house” Italian dressing.
A main course of thinly sliced veal was well cooked with the meat enhanced by a lemon and caper sauce. Served separately, a small bowl of spaghetti, cooked well past “al dente” but topped with a particularly good tomato sauce.
Lasagne was on the other plate. It’s difficult to make lasagne look elegant and, certainly, there seemed to have been little attempt here. It tasted OK, though – no worse than we’d make at home.
For dessert, cannoli were a decent example of the Sicilian classic. Crisp pastry and and well flavoured ricotta. Across the table, toscanella – a strip of puff pastry, topped with cream and choux buns filled with crème patisserie (they probably do double duty in their profiteroles dessert) and shreds of chocolate. It was all very underwhelming.