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Wednesday, October 19, 2005

A bite-sized bistro

Posted By on Wed, Oct 19, 2005 at 12:00 AM

The concept is “a new American bistro” — cutting-edge food served tapas-style, for sharing and grazing. It’s a good idea, one used more or less successfully elsewhere, but what makes this restaurant work so well is chef Jeff Condit’s creative flair.

The concept of small plates begins when you sit down in front of one of them — white, square and set on its corner so it appears as a diamond. On the menu, you won’t see the usual “appetizers” or “entrées.” There are only bites — cool bites, chef’s bites, hot bites. In each category, choices are sharply limited. But the pleasure of such a focused menu is that each item is star quality and has been tweaked by the attentive chef until every morsel has been mined for all of its flavor, color, texture and taste.

Take, for example, dessert. Labeled “Sweet Shots,” each of three choices is served in a tiny glass. Raspberry sorbet is in a miniature stem glass; chocolate mousse (topped with espresso ganache) is in a tiny, tequila shooter glass, long and narrow like a cigar; and vanilla bean crème brûlée is in a traditional shot glass. The containers are so petite that they’re accompanied by tiny spoons. It’s obvious the chef has thought about presenting a range of flavors and temperatures, but each flavor is also intensified by complementary garnishes. The sorbet is topped with an even more concentrated raspberry sauce, and a few fresh raspberries. Taken to such extremes, it’s the raspberry experience.

Soups are served in small, footed tureens. Seafood chowder is glorious, well-stocked with shrimp, lobster, crab, bay scallops and clams, along with potato cubes in creamy broth. It’s garnished with fresh chives and a spoonful of crème fraîche that lurks just beneath the surface, adding another layer of depth and contrast.

As wonderful as the chowder is, on this visit the soup du jour — veloute of roasted fennel, garlic and onions — is even better: simple, flavorful and, at the same time, subtle, with fennel’s hint of anise flavor in each spoonful.

This is food as art. It plays to your taste buds, eyes and nose. Duck breast, for example, is glazed with cherry-port reduction — dried cherries, now rehydrated and infused with port, become jewels. What would you pair with jewels? Chef Condit chooses ordinary white beans, but, on this plate, the beans become pearls.

It’s fun to eat food so meticulously prepared and presented. And with the “bites” philosophy, you’ll find reasonably priced choices, with smaller portions that won’t leave you feeling like you need to be rolled back to your car. Consistent with the idea of lighter eating, no basket of bread is left on the table; it’s served a slice at a time. It’s much easier to say no the next time your server comes by.

Also recommended: Roasted Colorado lamb with tangy Dijon mustard sauce. Paired with dried tomatoes and roasted sweet shallots, this dish succeeds on every level. The lamb is presented in irregular slices, so it’s easy to share.

We enjoyed skewered chicken, marinated in lime juice and pressed with chopped peanuts and coconut, but found it a little bland. It could be improved with a more flavorful dipping sauce.

Vegetarians can try wild mushroom “raviolo,” which minimizes the carbs by draping one sheet of pasta loosely over the top. The woodsy mushrooms are enhanced with Madeira sauce. Another choice is pan-roasted vegetables with herbed couscous and creamy Boursin cheese.

Invention continues in the salads. Here’s a why-didn’t-I-think-of-that: You’ve had it as a soup, now try it as a salad — chopped bits of tomatoes, red onion, peppers and cucumbers; instead of putting it in a blender, serve as is. Gazpacho salad.

Located on the lower level (stairs must be navigated) of a rehabbed 100-year-old building in Farmington’s historic district, the restaurant’s slogan is, “Bites, Drinks, and Music.” So far, Condit and co-owner James Williams have been able to fulfill two of the promises, but are patiently (or anxiously) waiting for their liquor license, promised before the end of the month.

There’s live jazz on Friday and Saturday nights; sometimes piano and trombone, sometimes just piano. Comfy, squishy leather chairs and a sofa in the center of the room welcome you to sit and enjoy. With a glass of wine, it will be perfect.

Elissa Karg dines for Metro Times. E-mail


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