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Friday, March 30, 2007 - Page updated at 02:00 AM

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Restaurant Review

Bis on Main | At least the fabulous food didn't let me down

Special to The Seattle Times

If you are going to be stood up by your lunch date, there are worse places to be stranded alone than Bis on Main.

I had requested a seat in the lounge, a new component to this 8-year-old Bellevue bistro, part of its expansion last fall. From the comfort of my corner banquette, I could savor the spring sunshine while monitoring stock prices and admiring the Money Honey's blond highlights on the mute flat-screen TV above the bar.

Proprietor Joe Vilardi suggested a cocktail and promised he would look out for my guest — indeed, few come through the door whose names he doesn't know. Then he went back to fielding phone calls and greeting the bevy of folks streaming in and out. One woman in a rush wanted crab cakes to go; he offered to walk them out to her car. Another called about an upcoming bar mitzvah celebration. Someone called for directions. Was it my guest, lost?

From my vantage point, I could hear the clamor of conversation and the clink of silver on china wax and wane in the gracious dining room across the hall, full of fine art and fashionably dressed people, men slicing into steak frites, women poking delicately at seafood or an abundant salad. I noted the smartly dressed servers, attire matching their professional demeanor. Eventually I chose a glass of wine from a well-priced, engaging wine list — and worried that maybe I forgot to tell him there's no sign on the restaurant.

A new sign and awning are about to go up, putting a period on the remodel undertaken last fall. The work more than doubled Bis on Main's seating capacity, adding a private dining room as well as the bar, and vastly increased the wall space devoted to Vilardi's impressive contemporary art collection. Those paintings stimulate and engage the senses as intensely as chef Christopher Peterson's swashbuckling comfort food.

Bis on Main 3 stars


10213 Main St., Bellevue; 425-455-2033, www.bisonmain.com

Bistro/American/French/Italian

$$$

Reservations: Recommended.

Hours: Lunch 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m. Mondays-Fridays; dinner 5:30-9:30 p.m. Mondays-Thursdays, 5:30-10 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 5-9 p.m. Sundays.

Prices: Lunch soups, salads, sandwiches $5-$14, entrees $10.50-$20; dinner appetizers $6.50-$14, entrees $18-$36.

Drinks: Full bar; solid wine list features full and half bottles with American, French and Italian the primary focus.

Parking: Complimentary valet parking available in lot behind the restaurant.

Sound: Muted.

Who should go: Those in search of an elegant and gracious venue for lunch or dinner, a business meal or celebration; sit solo in the bar or host a function in the private room.

Cards: All major cards.

Access: No obstacles.

His inspiration may be French or Italian, but his exuberance is wholly American. Pork osso buco is a Flintstonian bone more than half a foot long. The tender meat wears a fruity glaze revealing sweet-tart cranberry with a hint of cinnamon, sage and orange. The sauce dripped down into pasta pearls studded with finely diced butternut squash and bits of smoky bacon.

Duck breast is as full-flavored as beef. The ruby-red slices are sauced as you might a tenderloin, with a robust blend of Madeira, herbs and pan juices. Duck confit and mushrooms are tucked into the bird's nest of crispy potato strings fried in (what else?) duck fat. Braised escarole and bright-green fava beans complete the landscape.

Colorado rack of lamb, so good it was reduced to a pile of toothpicks in short order, is well-served by an herbed cream sauce sweetened with shallot and marsala. The crusty but rather dull artichoke and potato gratin with it didn't disappear so fast.

Crispy garlic chicken is seasoned extravagantly with salt, pepper and garlic. The burnished skin on the boneless half-bird crackles; the pliant flesh really tastes like chicken, the white meat as juicy as the dark. Sweet, nut-brown cloves of roasted garlic beg to be scooped up with a bite of mashed potato — or better yet, spread on a slice of fresh bread from the excellent, ever-changing assortment in a basket that seems bottomless.

You'll wish there was no bottom to the bowl of truffle-scented fries served with buttermilk and blue cheese aioli. These tantalizing nibblers are slender, hot and brittle, their subtle, musky taste a pleasing contrast to the sharp, tangy cheese.

Sample menu


Stuffed calamari: $6

Mushroom tart: $9.50

Pork osso buco: $20

Halibut: $31

Lamb rack: $37

Seafood dominates the daily specials. A timbale of tomato and pine-nut couscous elevates (literally) pan-roasted halibut, moist under a golden crust; but it's the river of vibrant basil pesto rimming the plate that raises this dish to rarefied heights.

An appetizer of stuffed calamari explodes with flavor. The tender tubular bodies — chubby with minced chorizo, bell pepper and baby fennel — look like three pale sausages lolling in a peppery pool of herbed tomato sauce.

The calamari, like most starters here, are so amply portioned, they could be a light main course. That's certainly true of the impressive mushroom tart served with a side of greens. The dainty pastry shell is packed with assorted funghi loosely bound with egg custard, and sauced with a delicate pale-green tarragon coulis that exactly matches the color of the dining-room walls.

Wild mushrooms, toasted walnuts and caramelized fennel tangled in fresh tagliatelle noodles are tossed with cream and fresh pepper — a luxurious indulgence that proved just the ticket for my now-solo lunch. I devoured every strand, along with an apple-cider dressed endive and lettuce salad spiked with sliced apples and fried cheddar croutons. A good meal helped soothe my pique and so did gallant Joe Vilardi, who checked on me one last time before sitting down to his own lunch at the bar.

"I was stood up," I said, pouting.

He shook his head. "Amazing."

Providence Cicero: providencecicero@aol.com

Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company

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