The daily Astorian. (Astoria, Or.) 1961-current, April 20, 2017, Page 12, Image 21

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    12 // COASTWEEKEND.COM
Coast Weekend’s local
restaurant review
THE BISTRO: REVITALIZED AND REFINED
Story and photos by
THE MOUTH OF THE COLUMBIA
ate last year, Jack Stephen-
son bought The Bistro in
Cannon Beach.
Prior to relocating from
the San Francisco Bay
area, Stephenson oversaw dozens
of restaurants for a management
group. Before that, there were
stints at large hotel chains and
Disney World. In these positions,
Stephenson’s focus was on the
macro: banquet events and cor-
porate constellations that served
thousands of diners each day.
Now, while piloting an intimate
restaurant in a small tourist town,
he’s dealing in the dozens.
Stephenson appears to be
embracing these more direct con-
nections. He regularly patrols The
Bistro’s dining room and bar, intro-
ducing himself, describing dishes
and listening. He makes a point of
highlighting how he makes dishes
his own. Indeed, Stephenson takes
the work quite personally, entwin-
ing great pride and pressure.
Perhaps after decades in the
profit-driven, corporate world,
Stephenson’s hands-on, one-to-
one immersion at The Bistro is
an expected response. Here, he is
reconnecting to the heart of the
chef-diner relationship, a place
where passion can trump the bot-
tom line.
After taking the reins at The
Bistro, Stephenson rewrote the
entire menu (save for the linguine,
which was apparently too popular
to let go).
While at first glance the Bistro’s
menu may appear ‘de rigueur’ for
fine dining — steak, chowder, crab
cakes, etc. — deeper inspection
unveils clever tweaking. Fine
ingredients aren’t enough; there
has to be a swerve, a zig where
others zag. He does so by layer-
ing techniques: Asian flourishes
atop a base of French classicism.
These signatures aren’t whole-
sale reinventions, but meaningful
THE BISTRO
Rating: 
263 N. Hemlock St., Cannon
Beach
PHONE: 503-436-2661
HOURS: 4:30 p.m.-9 p.m.
Wednesday-Sunday
PRICE: $$ - Entrées average
in the mid-$20s
SERVICE: Confident, unob-
trusive
VEGETARIAN/VEGAN OP-
TIONS: A few
DRINKS: Full bar
Draper Girls Pear-Brined Pork Chop
nonetheless.
A few holdovers of Bistro’s
past remain in the simply dressed,
softly lit restaurant, most notably
staff and musical traditions.
On Wednesdays, Thistle and
Rose strum folk tunes that lead
to dialogues and soft, breathy
singalongs. On Saturdays, classical
guitar nuzzles an already palpable
romanticism. While unobtrusive,
The Bistro’s live music is an unde-
niable mood elevator.
Over the course of multiple
trips, I found myself drawn to the
bar side. And it’s worth noting:
While the Bistro’s entrées can be
quite spendy, there are some fine
values found only in the bar.
In fact, one of the most en-
joyable meals I had was also one
of the most thrifty. For less than
the price of an average entrée I
combined the Duck Confit and
Warm Beet Salad ($11.50) with
the Chicken Meatball Marinara
Sandwich ($8.75, only available
in the bar).
With house-fermented cream,
pomegranate seeds and duck fat
vinaigrette, the duck salad con-
tained multitudes. It was salty,
earthy, tangy, acidic, creamy and
a heck of delivery vehicle for
beets. Cooked in luscious duck
fat, how could it not be? The
sinewy duck itself was rich and
juicy. Besides sharp sweetness,
the pomegranate seeds proffered
a exciting textural pop. Listed as
an appetizer — and, yes, it would
be grand to share — the dish
Chicken meatball marinara
worked, too, like a dinner salad,
one where health and indulgence
meet.
The bread on the meatball sub
— like all the bread at the Bistro
— is made in-house. In between
were greens, an herby marina-
ra smothering well-seasoned
chicken meatballs and a cozy
blanket of Gouda cheese. It was
tall and sloppy, a finger-licking
delight that flirted with simple
perfection. At $8.75, I wouldn’t
begrudge anyone who made it a
habit. And with prices as they are
— the “Cannon Beach price,” so
to speak — a lower cost to entry
is especially welcome.
On the other end of that
spectrum is the Caramel Chick-
en Vietnamese-Style ($24.75).
It’s not the most expensive dish
(that goes to the $32.50 New
York Steak), but for chicken and
rice there is some sticker shock
(even if the chicken is “Mary’s
air chilled organic”). The dish
comes in two mounds: a bowl
of chicken in bittersweet, salty,
slightly spicy caramel sauce, and
a hill of white rice crowned with
kimchi slaw. The finger-like cuts
of chicken maintained an proper
ratio of meat to sauce.
For the most part the dish
KEY TO STAR RATING SYSTEM
succeeds. Rice helps to fill it, and
the sharp, acidic slaw helps cut
the sweetness. But the slaw ran
out quickly, and the sugar in the
sauce began stacking up — never
quite overwhelming, but losing
its initial luster.
The chicken, however, was
the only minor misstep in the nu-
merous meals I had at the Bistro.
Otherwise, down to the comple-
mentary bread and irresistible
garlic butter, I was blissfully at
ease.
The perky pear glaze of the
supple, exquisitely charred Drap-
er Girls Pear Brined Pork Chop
($25.50) was just an opener. I
continued to smear the accom-
panying roasted garlic and tangy
agrodolce — a balsamic reduc-
tion with raisins and onions — to
great effect. A hockey puck of
incredibly soft goat milk polenta
was an excellent pairing. Its lean
clarity played fantastically well
with the supple pork (cow’s milk
would’ve been too fatty). Like
the duck salad, a lot was hap-
pening here, but humbly so. The
pork chop was a dish that spoke
softly but with great confidence
and wisdom.
But perhaps it was the Cioppino
($25.75) that is most emblematic
 Below average
 Average
 Good
 Excellent
 Best in region
of Stephenson and the new Bistro.
Ginger and daishi broth — a
Japanese stock including seaweed
and shaved, smoked tuna — bless-
ed the fish stew with enlivened
Asian inflection, adding depth and
holistic complexity. There was
rice, too, which, along with cubes
of ahi tuna, prawns and scallops,
made for a reasonably hearty bowl.
On top, a raft of charred bread was
plunged in, slathered with a roast-
ed red pepper spread that matched
the broth’s red hue but twisted its
flavor.
Like the best of the Bistro’s
offerings, the Cioppino was clearly
labored over, refined, multifac-
eted and distinct. For these are
Stephenson’s goals. And while
there remains some room for him
to explore the more outer reaches
of modern culinary creativity and
local bounty, he has revitalized The
Bistro in short order. It is nothing if
not his own.
It’s amazing what going small
can do.