Food-fan­tasy is­land

Pasatiempo - - Restaurant Review - Su­san Mead­ows

315 Restau­rant and Wine Bar, still Bistro 315 on your caller ID, has a new ex­ec­u­tive chef, Ryan Mann. Last year’s ren­o­va­tion added new din­ing ar­eas and cre­ated a more en­tic­ing wine bar away from that busy hall­way out­side the kitchen. The old 315 tipped its toque mostly to­ward Provence, and its Web site still ad­ver­tises “the finest in French cui­sine since 1995.” The menu, how­ever, is now rife with risotto, po­lenta, pancetta, porcini, and Parme­san, and there’s even a beef carpac­cio. The Ital­ian in­flu­ence prob­a­bly in­ten­si­fied with the brief pas­sage last year of chef Michael Eas­ton, who moved on to re-en­gi­neer owner Louis Moskow’s other re­cently ren­o­vated ven­ture, the Rai­l­yard Restau­rant & Sa­loon, re­cast as La Stazione — but that’s an­other story. If the bistro hasn’t been trans­formed into a trat­to­ria, its culi­nary cen­ter has moved out of Provence. Call it an un­charted is­land where Amer­i­can and Mediter­ranean in­flu­ences (in­clud­ing North African) min­gle with in­gre­di­ents from Italy in a mostly French-con­trolled au­ton­o­mous re­gion. Bistro clas­sics like steak frites, mus­sels and fries, and the de­li­cious crème brûlée re­main on the menu.

The spe­cial prix fixe menu is now of­fered everyday un­til clos­ing at a rock-bot­tom price to match our rock-bot­tom econ­omy: $18 for three cour­ses. Choices are lim­ited but change weekly. For $35 you can en­joy three cour­ses cho­sen freely from the printed menu — per­haps the best deal of all. In prac­tice, though, the nightly spe­cials — with prices clearly in­di­cated — sing a siren song from the bistro black­board. Take the foie gras; I mean, or­der it. It boasted a per­fectly seared crust and rare cen­ter, high­lighted by a ruby grape­fruit

gas­trique. (The gas­trique is a re­duced sauce ai­gre-doux — or sour-sweet sauce made with caramelized su­gar and vine­gar or cit­rus juice.) A glass of caramel and grape­fruit Sauternes of­fered by the server con­firmed the beauty of the clas­sic pair­ing of foie gras and Sauternes. Sim­i­larly, the black­board’s pan-fried oys­ters served with sauce rav­ig­ote (cold sauce stud­ded with pickle and fla­vored with tar­ragon) slipped down so well with a 2007 William Fèvre Ch­ablis that I never wanted to leave the starter block. An elk ten­der­loin spe­cial, ten­der and medium rare as or­dered, also se­duced me, the sauce snappy with North African harissa and served with risotto. The risotto is made with farro, a fash­ion­able an­cient grain with a nut­tier, grainier tex­ture than rice.

The reg­u­lar menu boasts hand­made ca­vatelli, an Ital­ian pasta with ori­gins in south­ern Italy. On a cold win­ter night, I hun­gered for bright fla­vors, but the stout, chewy pasta felt too heavy. Though it was an in­ter­est­ing dish, with com­plex lay­ers from a tomato broth, fresh spinach, chopped pi­choline olives, and shaved Parme­san, some­how a dark funk­i­ness reigned where I ex­pected sun­shine. Prawn tem­pura had a light crunch and high lus­cious­ness. The per­fectly cooked duck breast packed fla­vor and melt­ing ten­der­ness un­der crisp skin. The boost of a clove-spiced sauce, the crunch of pis­ta­chios, and sweet roasted ap­ples make this a dish that might be­come my stan­dard. A 2005 Faive­ley Givry needed more time — per­haps years — to bal­ance its marked acid­ity, show­ing only a faint prom­ise of leather and fruit near the end of our meal.

De­ter­mined one night to try the $18 prix fixe (get thee be­hind me, black­board!), I found it a sim­ple, well-cooked meal without fire­works. It started with a good salad topped with an un­for­tu­nate sweet-po­tato croquette: a fin­ger of fried heav­i­ness. (Just my luck — for Mardi Gras, the oys­ters started the $18 prix

fixe, and though they were also fried, they added the light­ness of shell­fish for con­trast.) A sub­tly ad­dic­tive hint of chile in the pleas­antly salty sauce and quinoa ac­com­pa­ni­ment lifted the juicy pork ten­der­loin from ba­nal­ity. Am­ple con­so­la­tion for the starter ar­rived with the dark chocolate mousse that came only on the

prix fixe. No sur­prise, be­cause desserts are a spe­cialty at the bistro: chocolate flour­less cake with pis­ta­chio ice cream and Grand Marnier sauce, chocolate pot de crème, and crème brûlée are all deeply, de­li­ciously sat­is­fy­ing both in tex­ture and taste. Even if the menu now speaks some Ital­ian, French tra­di­tions like the black­board spe­cials, the prix fixe menus, and a cer­tain savoir-faire in food and ser­vice are alive at 315. ◀

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