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Food Dude

June 21, 2012
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Bistro Montage evolves

By Jim Duncan

Scallops and wild mushroom risotto appetizer at Bistro Montage, 2724 Ingersoll Ave., 557-1924. Hours are Tuesday through Friday, 11 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. and 5 p.m. to close.

In the restaurant world, one hears more about doomed locations than charmed ones. The southeast corner of 28th Street and Ingersoll Avenue is among the latter, having hosted one popular café after another for decades. People loved it when it was Jeff Pocock and Kim Samuelson’s deli Sheffield’s, then as Marlene Todd’s Corner Café, Gary Hines’ original Bistro Montage, and Enosh Kelley’s more French version of the same. Now Kelley thinks it’s time to for another makeover.

“We were the only French restaurant when we started. Now there are three, and it’s a tough economy. I was thinking of downscaling to more affordable prices anyway, and then Ian came back to town,” he mused.

Ian Robertson is a talented young chef who worked for Kelley before moving on the culinary school in France, then putting in brief stints at Michelin starred kitchens in France, England and Chicago. He came home this year, and Kelley wants to keep him here. So he initiated lunch service Tuesdays through Fridays with Robertson designing an inexpensive ($3.50 - $13) lunch menu. Then Kelley decided it was time to make the lunch menu available at dinner and a somewhat shortened dinner menu available at lunch. He’s even thinking about scrapping his linen tablecloths (which cost more than $150 a week to launder) as soon as he finds new table tops he likes.

The place looked unchanged on my recent visits. Fresh flowers and tablecloths softened a blood red and black room. New creations on the menu included arugula salads made with roasted strawberries, papaya and chevre tossed with champagne vinaigrette. Caesar and Cobb salads were traditional, and a beet salad featured red and yellow roasted beets with crisp, warm chevre and pear butter, a balsamic reduction and sherry/walnut vinaigrette. Sandwiches were all served on focaccia, as if proclaiming a move out of France. One featured pulled chicken, tomato jam, Havarti and tarragon mayonnaise. A “BLT” included excellent thick bacon, orange mustard and honey/herb chevre. Crepes and soups were the stars of the lunch menu, though. One light and gorgeous crepe was stuffed with tender chunks of steak, asparagus, grilled mushrooms, Brie and tarragon mayonnaise. Another day I tried a chicken crepe stuffed with bacon and havarti. Soups included a vegetarian English pea soup that tasted too fresh to be out at night, a tortilla soup in chicken stock and the bistro’s famous French onion soup, a sumptuous recipe that uses a stock of roasted duck and veal bones with caramelized onions, finished with sherry.

After the lunch and dinner menus merged, I made a lunch out of appetizers and charcuterie. A “seasonal” risotto delivered lovely pan seared scallops on rice reduced with wild mushrooms and plated with arugula. (Another risotto was reduced in sea urchin sauce, with tobikko and tomato concasse.) Rillettes were meatier (less fatty) than most, and a country terrine of pork was wrapped in bacon, reduced with raisins and pistachios, and served with classic Cumberland sauce. A short dessert list featured a chocolate mousse covered in chopped pineapple and freshly whipped cream. Cheese service included six varieties — none French. Entrees on the new menu included steak frites, beef tenderloin, skate wing, trout, duck a l’orange and roast chicken. The eclectic wine list ($25 - $2500) remained. A dozen wines were sold by the glass ($5-$13) and half a dozen Norman hard ciders were available.

Bottom line — Bistro Montage might not be as French as it used to be, but it’s now open for lunch, more affordable and infused with youthful energy.

Side Dishes

Alba and Splash have been offering Iowa Iceberg lettuce. Until this year, Iowa State horticulturists advised that variety could not be grown in Iowa. That’s why Larry Cleverly (2nd & Court at Downtown Farmers’ Market) says he had to grow it. It has deeper flavors than out-of-state iceberg. CV

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