Ever since I ate the pan seared scallop served over a roasted corn and avocado orzo at this year's Taste of Akron, I have been looking forward to trying a meal at Kent's very own Bistro on Main. Having gotten off work a little early today, I managed to slog my way through the afternoon rush hour traffic and pulled into the parking lot outside the restaurant right at around 5:30 PM. Like most places I visit for the first time, I didn't have a reservation, but figured since it was a normally slow day for the restaurant business and it was early enough in the evening, it wouldn't be a problem.
Bistro on Main was located at 1313 West Main Street, Kent, OH 44240 and can be reached at 330-673-9900. As I already mentioned, parking was available all around the restaurant.
Here was a shot of the front of the restaurant, visible from Main Street:
Once inside, the most difficult decision I had to make was whether I preferred a table in the dining room or the lounge. Figuring I'd have better light for photographs in the dining room, I chose the former. The lighting actually turned out to be dimmer than I had hoped, but fortuitously, the host sat me at the one table where the track lighting was the most focused on the table.
He left me with both the dinner menu and the wine list to study:
My server tonight, Christa, soon stopped by with a glass of water and told me about the specials for the evening. Not to tip my cards too early, in what would turn out to be a wonderful food experience tonight, Christa's efficient service and casual demeanor would make the entire dining experience delightful as well. Most times, I don't often mention the service I receive unless it was substandard. In this case, however, the opposite was true.
To start the meal off, some of Bistro's homemade focaccia and a roasted garlic dipping oil with grated cheese and freshly cracked pepper were brought to the table. Here was a shot of the dipping oil:
And here was a shot of the basket of focaccia:
Of course, me being the bread aficionado that I am, I wanted to smell and taste the bread by itself first. I picked up a piece and turned it over to discover a nicely fried crust:
The crumb of the bread was regular and had a lovely "pull" to it when I went to take a bite. The crumb didn't have a ton of flavor, but that was made up by the salt that had been applied to the top of the bread before baking and especially by the fried bottom crust. The crust came from the olive oil that had been generously added to the bottom of the baking sheet before placing in the fully fermented dough. I get a similar crust on my own focaccia, but since I use only enough oil to coat the bottom of the sheet pan, it is much more lightly fried.
I also tried the bread with the dipping oil and was rewarded by the complex sweetness from roasting garlic in extra virgin olive oil. I've had the oil - cheese - pepper dip before, but this was definitely a nice variation on the standard fare.
After hearing my server describe today's special appetizer, I knew I had to order it. Here was the smoked salmon and grilled corn guacamole with freshly fried corn chips:
I tried the chips by themselves. They were definitely fried, but they weren't greasy and even more importantly, they had clearly been seasoned right out of the fryer. I could have eaten the chips just by themselves. Fortunately, I had the guacamole to pair with them. I loaded up a chip with some of the dip, a small piece of the smoked salmon and several kernels of grilled corn and took a bite. The crispness from the chip contrasted wonderfully with the creaminess of the guacamole. The sweetness from the corn harmonized so well with the acidity from the lime juice, the herbaceousness from the cilantro, and the smokiness of the smoked salmon. This was a true party in my mouth.
I should mention the smoked salmon especially. I am usually wary about ordering smoked salmon because what I normally end up with is over-smoked, dried out fish that just flakes apart when you try and cut it. This smoked salmon was lightly smoked, cooked only on the outside, and was still medium-rare on the inside. I later learned that not only was the smoked salmon made in-house, but so was just about everything else on the menu, too.
Choosing an entrée was difficult because so many items on the menu looked good. After confirming that the "Adult Mac 'n Cheese" listed as a side dish was just a smaller dish of what was listed under the entrées, I decided to make the most out of my visit and order the Fire Roasted Pork Tenderloin as well as a side of the Adult Mac 'n Cheese.
Here was a shot of the Fire Roasted Pork Tenderloin:
I had asked for my pork to be cooked medium and sure enough, that's exactly how it came out of the kitchen:
The pork loin had been generously rubbed with a blackened seasoning and was just a little bit spicy. The meat itself was tender, juicy, and quite delicious. The ends of the roast were just a tad bit more done than the middle, but that was to be expected, so it wasn't a surprise. The chef had thoughtfully provided a grilled lime with my dinner and I used it to squeeze a bit of roasted citrus juice on top of my pork, which gave it a nice zing to the already spicy heat. It truly was a delicious treatment of pork.
Accompanying the pork on my dish were a sofrito rice (on the left) and a house smoked bacon and black bean salad (on the right):
Both dishes were good, and while I think the sofrito rice was a nice side, it didn't stand up to the bold flavors from both the pork and the black bean salad. I don't think that the flavor was off and it definitely looked like a sofrito (colored with oil steeped in annatto seeds), it just didn't command my taste buds attention like the rest of the dish. I think it was just a touch shy of the perfect amount of salt, but even perfectly seasoned, it would've need something else. The black bean salad, however, with the smoky bacon, lime juice, and shallots, was a delicious foil to the spicy pork loin.
Tagging along next to my entrée was my side of Adult Mac 'n Cheese:
What intrigued me about this dish when I first read the description was the obvious attempt at taking this American comfort food and transforming it into something that only an adult palate could understand. The dish was a combination of lobster, homemade chorizo, white cheddar cream, and strips of banana peppers and onions, cooked together and served with orecchiette (literally meaning "little ears"). When my server pointed out earlier that nearly everything on the menu was homemade, I figured that meant most of the flat pastas: fettuccine, linguine, tagliatelle. When she confirmed that the orecchiette was also homemade (unless they ran out, in which case dried was used), I was seriously impressed.
I loaded up my fork with the various components of this dish and took a bite. I was worried that the spice from the chorizo and banana peppers might overwhelm something so delicate as lobster meat. Fortunately, my fears were unfounded. The texture of the pasta was perfect and the flavor combination from the various elements combined in mouth and hit notes of salt, sweet, spice, and sour. What I came to realize as I continued to eat the dish was that there was far more sweet lobster than spicy chorizo. This kept the spice under control. The cheesiness of the dish, which I commented on ad nauseum during this year's Lenten Project, was perfect: enough sauce so that it was creamy, but not so much that it became soupy.
One final element I forgot to mention were the fried spinach leaves which lined the bowl. While a minor element in the flavor of this dish, they added a nice little crunch from time to time when my vigorous forking of ingredients happened to snag one.
I ate about half of my entrée and half of my side before asking for the remainder to be boxed up to go. While the side was a bit pricey at $13 (it was $21 for the entrée size), it was a decent size and paired with a salad or a cup of soup, might actually be large enough for an entire meal.
While I really was stuffed after my meal, my server dropped off the dessert menu for me consider. I figured, at the very least, even if I didn't order dessert, I could include the menu in this post for completeness:
One of the lovely discoveries I made was that desserts were available in full size for roughly $7 or miniature versions for roughly half the price. I typically avoid desserts on most menus because after a quite filling meal, I just can't eat an entire dessert by itself. Often times, if I'm still in the mood for something sweet, I'll ask my server if I can just get a single scoop of ice cream. With these mini desserts on the menu, I could now indulge in a sweet ending to my meal and not add too much to my gastrointestinal discomfort.
As with most desserts at a sit down restaurant, I paired it with a nice black cup of decaffeinated coffee:
I love how the bitter flavor from the coffee plays with the sweetness of the dessert. Speaking of which, here was my mini zabaglione served up in a martini glass:
The whipped cream that the menu mentioned had clearly been folded into the finished zabaglione as it was ethereal and light. It sat on top of macerated blueberries and raspberries. I tasted the zabaglione by itself and found it to be prepared perfectly, with Chambord being substituted for the more traditional Marsala wine. As I dug down into the glass through the multiple layers, I was rewarded with plump blueberries and raspberries. The sweetness of this dessert was definitely restrained, which I very much appreciated.
The only oddity in tonight's dessert was the blueberries. They were definitely fresh, but when I started chewing them, they felt overly "pulpy," for lack of a better word. I tried a berry naked (washed clean with some water from my glass), thinking that perhaps they were maybe under ripened. The berry had a balance between sour and sweet and other than the strange chewy texture, it tasted like an in-season blueberry. I consulted with a foodie friend of mine and he suggested that either it might just be the varietal of blueberry or that perhaps a light amount of rain during the growing season altered the texture slightly. Don't get me wrong, the dessert was still tasty, just a little weird texture-wise.
After paying my check, I asked my server one final question: "Who is running the pass tonight?"
Now, my reason for this very pointed restaurant-speak question was that I was curious if Chef Aaron Ruggles was managing the kitchen tonight. Being that it was a typically "off" day for the restaurant business, sometimes chefs will leave the sous chef or chef de cuisine in charge and take a day off. Figuring that this question, in combination with the fact that she caught me taking pictures of my food earlier in the evening, might tip her off that I was more than just a regular patron, she responded:
"It's the chef, Aaron Ruggles."
And then after a few seconds of reflection, she surprised me even more by adding:
"Oh, is this your first time visiting us?"
And she helpfully pulled out the customer survey form from the inside of the plastic book in which the had come. That was definitely not the question I thought she would be asking me. I thought about leaving my blogger business card at this point, but decided that since I had my answer, I thanked her, grabbed my leftovers and headed back out into the summer air.
Tonight's meal, with the exception of two minor blips, was excellent and I am looking forward to returning again soon to try even more of the menu that Chef Ruggles has put together. While I'm not sure how busy they get on the weekends, I don't think you would have any problem walking in off the street earlier in the week and getting a table in either the dining room or the lounge. While some of the entrées reach into the mid $20's, there were quite a few in the low to mid teens as well. Bistro on Main would make an excellent date night restaurant without breaking the bank. I highly recommend you check them out as soon as you can.