By Amy McCarthy
By Scott Reitz
By Scott Reitz
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Alice Laussade
By City of Ate
A small disk of steak tartare, dressed simply and studded with shallots and capers, was a textbook preparation; my table cleaned the plate.
The Lombardi group is known for pastas, and Bistro 31 delivers four imported versions and a house-made tortelli. Trofie is the most interesting, pairing gently caramelized roasted cauliflower, pancetta and a lightly applied but heavy cream sauce. The anchovy the menu promised, however, seemed missing from my plate. Brandt says he grinds the salty fish up with breadcrumbs used to garnish the dish to hide them from timid customers, but the trick works too well if you're a fan of the fish.
A memorable Caesar salad hid the same fish behind sweet, bright picadillo peppers. The chef is testing the waters, but he doesn't seem to think the Highland Park palate is quite as ready for rustic European cooking as he'd hoped. Not that it matters — Bistro 31's dining room is packed.
On a busy weekend evening, tables spilled out onto sidewalks with diners taking their seats late into the evening. "I've been working since 8 in the morning," a waiter announced as a large group took seats on the patio, just outside the awning. Service is typically excellent, but some of the staff seemed fatigued at times, which can happen when you keep a restaurant open for breakfast, lunch and dinner. What the Lombardis can't have in seating, they make up for in volume.
Just past 10 p.m. the place was still abuzz as diners supped on $27 lamb loins and $16 Kobe beef burgers — prices that push the bill into special occasion territory for some. This is Highland Park, though, and the menu seems fair given the surrounding real estate and the luxury cars the valets jockey around the parking lot.
For this crowd, Bistro 31 is a home run, coupling competent cooking with good service in a relaxed restaurant that runs like a well-oiled machine. Although it just recently opened, the place feels seasoned, which you might expect from a restaurant group with a corporate office and snappy business cards.
Brandt may shy away from the aggressive European flavors of his mentors, but he appears to be resonating with his target audience in what might be the Lombardi Family Concepts' finest offering.