Wednesday, December 2, 2015

A Cornocopia Of Choices At 111 Bistro

Fair warning -- I cannot give you an unbiased review of the food at 111 Bistro. Perhaps this surprises you, gentle reader, given the myriad of reviews on this blog where I assert that very quality, an unbiased attempt at describing to you what the average consumer can expect in terms of food and service when dining at an establishment.

In fact, my relationship with 111 Bistro has always had a personal quality to it. The original sous chef invited me to the "friends and family" night prior to the restaurant's actual opening back in June 2014. I had first learned of the restaurant's planned existence earlier in 2014 when the chef, Anthony Scolaro, and sous chef, Joe Holmes, each hosted a course at a Dinner In The Dark event at Crave in Akron. And, of course, at the friends and family event, I first met Anthony in person.

Is the food fantastic? Yes. Is the service great? Yes, with the caveat that I almost always sit at the bar, so I tend to be waited on by the same bartenders/servers over and over again. Have I ever had to send food back to the kitchen? Once, because of a mix-up with how my order was entered into the system. The kitchen made my entree with salt because they didn't realize it was for me. However, one of the line cooks saw that I had received the salted entree and immediately flagged me down. Grateful for the assist, I sent the plate of food back to the kitchen and they re-fired the entree, this time sans salt.

So what value can I add without this sounding like an (unpaid) advertisement for 111 Bistro? What I like about the menu at 111 Bistro is that not only does Anthony draw elements from other ethnic cuisines (although the menu is billed as "modern American", Japanese, Thai, Indian, French, and Italian all play a role), but dishes for diners with more common dietary restrictions are already represented on the menu, everything from vegetarian to vegan to gluten-free. And as I've already mentioned, when it comes to salt and seasoning, restaurants come in two varieties: those that season during prep and those that don't. 111 Bistro, more or less, comes squarely in the second camp.

That doesn't mean that the entire menu is fair game. Some elements are seasoned during prep because there is a marinade or brine involved; some of the confit preparations involve the traditional use of salt to bring out moisture from the protein. However, where I can normally expect maybe one thing on the menu to be low-salt/salt-free, at 111 Bistro, at any given moment, there will be a dozen items that I can order. They also run seafood specials quite often and many times, those dishes can be made salt-free.

Think I'm exaggerating? Let's take a look at their current menu (Fall/Winter 2015). Here are the items I can order and know that the kitchen can reasonably accommodate me:
  • 111 "Poutine" (minus the cheese)
  • 111 Fries (plain with the house made salt-free ketchup)
  • Pork Belly Steam Buns (minus the sambal mayo)
  • Shrimp Fried Rice (minus the soy)
  • Greens Salad (as is)
  • Greens Salad add-on proteins -- chicken, salmon, tuna, or shrimp
  • 111 Burger (no cheese, bun has a very low amount of salt)
  • Smoked Bison Meatloaf (subbing roasted potatoes for potato gratin)
  • Faroe Island Salmon (minus bacon)
  • Lake Erie Walleye (as is)
  • Brussels-bacon-onion (minus bacon)
  • Roasted carrots (as is)
  • Fingerling potatoes (as is)
You can also usually add the weekly seafood special to this list. Here is a picture of last night's seafood special, a pan-seared barramundi over coconut curry rice and roasted heirloom carrots with a piquillo pepper puree:

Or, how about last weekend's seafood special, a pan-seared black sea bass over chanterelle and porcini farro, truffle honey drizzle, and micro greens:

Seafood isn't your only option -- I tend to have the 111 Burger about once a week with either unseasoned French fries or a side of fresh fruit:

This particular burger had the optional fried egg on it.

It's hard to believe, but all of these entrees are no salt added, no butter, and no cheese. That's not to say they are salt-free (as in 0mg sodium), but I'd venture to guess that any one of these three entrees probably has under 300mg of sodium for the entire plate of food (the burger with egg on it probably having the most natural sodium). For those who are managing their salt intake, the menu and the preparations at 111 Bistro are truly a godsend. The fact that they are utilizing quality ingredients and preparing them correctly just makes it an even more attractive package.

I do occasionally indulge in dessert. While there is at least one item on the dessert menu that is 100% off-limits -- salted caramel cheesecake, I'm looking at you -- the seasonal creme brulee or just a scoop of the vanilla bean ice cream (occasionally with a freshly brewed espresso poured over it, affogato-style) is sometimes all I want.

I will say that the dessert menu has become less adventurous over time (and not necessarily in a bad way). When the restaurant opened, Joe Holmes (mentioned earlier) was both the sous chef and the pastry chef. When Joe and 111 Bistro parted ways mid-summer 2015, Anthony decided to not only scale back the desserts (smaller portions and simpler desserts), but the prices as well. I'd be lying if I said I didn't miss some of Joe's desserts, but at the end of the meal, often times you just want a small taste of something sweet, not another full-blown course.

I'm in a unique position in that I've had the opportunity to try 111's food both as a salt-eater and now as a salt-free eater. As a salt-eater, one of the qualities that always stood out for me was Anthony's philosophy on salt -- add just enough to enhance the flavor of the food, but never enough to make the salt noticed. As a salt-free eater, now I can completely appreciate the food on an entirely different level, both the high quality of the ingredients and the creative use of elements on the plate to balance savory, sweet, bitter, and spicy.

As you can imagine, I really highly recommend you give 111 Bistro a try, and not just because I eat there multiple times a week. Co-owners Anthony Scolaro and Meghan Pender (Meghan manages the front of the house) want you to have a fantastic experience and in my opinion they take that goal very seriously. They have been open to constructive feedback (and I've given them both positive and negative feedback over the last eighteen months) and I can't stress enough how much I appreciate the kitchen's flexibility in being able to provide the myriad of no-salt-added choices on the menu.

If you're interested in seeing more of my images from 111 Bistro (and trust me, there are nearly 300 to look through currently), feel free to visit my Flickr album.

111 Bistro is located at 2736 Medina Road, Medina, OH 44256 (it's in the same building as the new location for the Medina On Tap Bar and Grill) and can be reached at 330-952-1122. They are open Tuesday through Saturday for dinner and Sunday for brunch. Reservations are accepted and based on what I've seen, I'd encourage them for the weekends.

If you do decide to go, look for the guy sitting at the end of the bar with the large camera. Chances are, it'll be me.

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