Saturday, September 4, 2010

Solo Bistro - Bath, Maine

The Squire Tarbox Farm's produce is perhaps put to even better use at Solo Bistro, in the town of Bath about fifteen minutes away. Bath is one of these pristine, postcard-perfect old towns that seems to have not changed at all in about 150 years, but Solo Bistro is a surprisingly contemporary-looking place. It looks like it was furnished straight out of a Design Within Reach catalog, with molded-plastic chairs in several hues, bare blond wood tables, Le Klint lights hanging from the ceiling, and exposed brick walls (the huge gray stones in a more lounge-y downstairs area are even more dramatic). The food is perhaps not quite as contemporary as the decor, but is equally well-constructed and precise.

It's a short menu with maybe a half dozen choices each for starters and mains. We began with a smoked tomato tart which I suspect was indeed using some of those same tomatoes we'd had at the Inn (the Squire Tarbox Farm was included among about a half dozen local suppliers listed on the menu, and the restaurant had been recommended to us at the Inn). Their sweet and tangy flavor was given another layer of complexity from light smoking, as well as a touch of richness from some melty local Hahn's End cheese and a short crust. A lentil and bacon soup was richly flavored without being plodding or heavy.

Lobster risotto was creamy and suffused with crustacean goodness, generously studded throughout with the picked meat of a whole lobster which happily was tender and not overcooked. A sprinkle of truffle salt was perhaps unnecessary, but also much more subtle than the typically overhwelming artificial notes of most truffle oils. Possibly even better was a vegetable risotto, flavored primarily with carrots (why are the Maine carrots so crazy good?) and tomatoes, giving the rice a ruddy orange hue. The "Bistro Burger" made with house-ground beef was juicy to the point of sloppiness, a good thing in a burger, topped with some nice cheddar and a brioche bun and served with some good herb-flecked fries. Only the flatbread, topped with grilled mushrooms and creamy mascarpone, failed to make much of an impression.

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Desserts were exceptional. There was a chocolate tart and so of course Frod Jr. ordered it, particularly since it offered the twist of a sprinkling of Maine sea salt to enhance the dark chocolate (a combination he's learned to relish from the chocolate cremoso at Michael's Genuine Food & Drink home in Miami), plus an additional welcome diversion provided by a lavender-infused cream. But the real winner was a perfectly executed lemon buttermilk panna cotta, matched up with some local Maine blueberries and a delicately citrus-graced tuile cookie. The panna cotta was a beautiful balance of creamy and tangy, with a great counterpoint between the lemon and the blueberry (curiously enough, another combination I recall MGF&D's pastry chef Hedy Goldsmith playing to great effect) of different combinations of sweetness and tartness.

For a small place with a short wine list, that list covered a decent amount of ground, offering albariño, falanghina, verdejo, cannonau and other exotica along with some of the more usual suspects, though we drank beer from an equally well-curated selection.

Solo Bistro's contemporary decor may stand out in staid, historic Bath; but it stands out as well for its well-crafted and well-executed use of fresh local ingredients.

Solo Bistro
128 Front Street
Bath, Maine 04530

Solo Bistro on Urbanspoon

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