The dining room, with chandeliers and hand-stenciled walls, emanates elegance.
But with entrees from $16 to $36 and gourmet pizzas starting at $11, the pricing falls between casual and fine dining.
Our party tried an appetizer, a soup, two entrees and the four-course chef’s tasting menu which, at $35 with wine pairings, I thought was a great deal. For four of us, with tax and tip, the bill came to $151.63.
The New York Strip ($28), which my daughter ordered with french fries and red wine demi-glace on the side, was fabulous. The beef was cooked perfectly to the medium-rare requested and had the full, robust flavor of dry-aged beef. It was so tender you could almost cut it with a butter knife. The steak looked to be nearly 2 inches thick. Both my daughter and her friend took some home. Since the dish came with two sides and the girls were not crazy about whipped potatoes or Brussels sprouts, they chose mac-and-cheese as their second side. Great choice. It was individually baked in a small tart pan that was piping hot, with melted cheese on top. The macaroni was tender but not mushy and, in the mix of cheeses, I think I tasted Gruyere. The sauce was rich without being cloying. Purchased as a side ($5), the little casserole is perfectly sized for kids or for a snack.
The presentation at Bistro 36 is excellent, with colorful food arranged on white dishes in a variety or shapes and sizes.
My mom’s tagliatelle with sauteed shrimp, creamy marinara, Parmigiano-Reggiano and crispy parsley ($18 or $11 for a smaller portion) came steaming in a hot dish. The housemade pasta was tasty and the shrimp delicious although she found the creamy marinara sauce to be bland with a little too much cheese. (Sauces, generally, seemed somewhat under-seasoned.)
She started with the butternut squash bisque with creme fraiche and chives ($4/$7). It was not at all what she was expecting. You could barely taste the squash and, even with stirring, the creme fraiche and broth did not blend or deliver.
The chef’s tasting menu, which changes frequently, started Sunday with an amuse bouche of duck confit spring roll with arugula and citrus vanilla paired with a Prinz von Hessen, Johannisberg Riesling from Germany. I mention the wine because if, like me, you stay away from sweet riesling, you will find this dry, light vintage to be a pleasant exception to the norm. The spring roll wasn’t served with the wine; I had to ask about it and the server brought it later. I had saved some riesling and it paired very nicely, cutting the salty, fatty flavor of the deep-fried spring roll.
The next course of warm roasted beets with goat cheese, arugula, toasted almonds, balsamic glaze and citrus vinaigrette was served with a New Zealand sauvignon blanc with a mildly sweet finish. The main course was three sea scallops roasted on a skewer over a third-cup or so of root vegetable puree and broccoli sprigarello with beet vinaigrette. The root vegetables and beets show executive chef Clancy Heicher’s dedication to seasonal produce. The greens were excellent; the puree tasty but not warm enough.
The tiny little flute of Rotari Trentino sparkling rose brut from Italy was utterly delightful, as was the tiny little warm Belgium chocolate cake with which it came. Slightly bigger than a silver dollar with creme anglaise in the center, the dessert was tasty without overwhelming sweetness.
I love tasting menus because you get a wide variety of small dishes and they change regularly to take advantage of seasonal offerings. This menu was available for $25 without the wines, but they added greatly to the dining experience.
One of the nice things about Bistro 36 is that it does offer a dining experience. You don’t have to, but you can dress up and be part of the elegant setting that offers a special night out. Or you can hang at the bar with a beer and an $11 pizza. It’s good to have the option.
If you go: Lunch, Tuesday through Sunday, 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., dinner nightly from 5 p.m.