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Bistro dining in the Northern Neck

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by Joanna Marchetti

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Town Bistro
My husband and I recently had the pleasure of enjoying a wonderful dinner at Town Bistro in the heart of Kilmarnock. It’s co-owned by chef Christal Jett and Kate Messner.

After being greeted by the hostess, we were led to our window table, providing us with front row seats to witness the Friday night buzz around town. We could see crowds making their way over to Savannah Joe’s, and we could hear the faint strains of the Friday night band when customers entered and exited the restaurant.

When offered the wine list, my husband and I were surprised by the limited selection of wines sold by the glass (three, to be exact). However, we were pleased to learn that Town Bistro sells 1/2 bottles of wine, enough for two glasses, so we decided to enjoy a 1/2 bottle of the 2007 King Estate Oregon Pinot Noir.

I later learned that the wines are very carefully selected, and that none of the Bistro’s wines are rated below 88 on the wine rating scale (the wine rating scale is 50-100, with anything over 80 considered very good, and wines rated over 90 considered excellent). Chef Jett’s goal is for the wine list to be affordable and accessible.

Upon placing our drink orders, we were served a beautiful basket of warm European grain bread and butter.

While waiting for our wine, we studied the small, but beautifully crafted menu consisting primarily of fresh seafood, with one beef and one chicken option available. The menu is not overly extensive for a number of reasons. The first is that Chef Jett is the sole preparer of all dishes. With the exception of one dishwasher and a hostess on busy evenings, Jett and Messner run the restaurant entirely by themselves. Pretty impressive when you consider that everything from salads, to appetizers to entrees are made to order. The other reason is that Town Bistro doesn’t have bulk freezer storage (or a deep fryer or a microwave for that matter!). The menu changes constantly to reflect the freshest ingredients available to the chef.

Table service was impeccable as the tables are handled by none other than Messner herself, who was incredibly knowledgeable and helpful regarding menu questions.

That evening, the menu included two salad options, a soup of the day, and two appetizers, clams or brie. These selections, as well as the entrees, change regularly in accordance with the season and availability. We decided on the brie and were not disappointed. The perfectly picturesque circle of warm French double cream brie drizzled with clover honey was topped with fresh herbs and toasted pecans and surrounded by lightly toasted crostini. Our red wine paired wonderfully with this decadent dish.

We also shared the seasonal salad of mixed greens, sweet strawberries, toasted pecans and goat cheese served with a wonderful basalmic vinaigrette. The dressing was homemade, as are all sauces and dressings at Town Bistro, and the rich and intense flavors of the vinegar paired wonderfully with the goat cheese and strawberries.

When Messner arrived to take our order, I thought I had my mind set on the shrimp stuffed with jumbo lump crab meat and parmesan cheese, but made a last minute decision to ask which she most highly recommended. Declaring the scallops her personal favorite, I decided to trust her expertise and switched to the restaurant’s signature dish of panko crusted scallops with lemon-lime beurre blanc sauce. (See above photo). I chose one of the two starches being offered that evening, the roasted Yukon gold potatoes seasoned with herbes de provence. Chef Jett uses this seasoning particularly for the hint of lavender that goes well with most wines. My meal also included the vegetable du jour, a steamed crown of broccoli.

My husband chose the crabcake, which is made with a traditional recipe and a few “secret” spices, including the addition of tarragon. He chose the other starch of the evening, 100% pure wild rice, and the broccoli.

After we placed our orders, I took a moment to observe the style and decor of the restaurant. While not overly decorative, the restaurant manages to achieve a cozy and intimate atmosphere with burgundy walls, black chairs and tables, bistro prints hanging on the walls, wine racks and, my favorite touch, unique candle holders on each table. The restaurant has only seven tables, separated from the kitchen area by a sheer curtain. Patrons at many of the other tables seemed to know each other, and the overall feel of the restaurant was festive, as many of the parties surrounding us laughed and toasted their wine. While we were dining, Chef Jett visited tables, clearly familiar with many of the patrons.

imageWhen our food arrived, my scallops were beautifully browned and crisp on the outside and perfectly moist and juicy on the inside. The beurre blanc sauce was a delightful addition, as the citrusy hints in this white wine butter sauce complemented the scallops wonderfully.

My husband’s crabcake, also beautifully crisped, was accompanied by a small dish of the same buerre blanc sauce as my scallops, and we were later told the sauce is immensely popular among Bistro regulars and served alongside many other dishes by request.

Our delicious meals, including the amazing brie appetizer that we polished off, didn’t allow us room for dessert; however, it never hurts to check out the options. The signature desserts that are staples of the menu include the creme brulee and the flour-less chocolate torte. Other desserts, like the rest of the menu, change seasonally. That evening it was French toast pound cake with fresh fruit. We were immediately sorry we hadn’t saved room for those mouth-watering treats!

Town Bistro opened in June 2005. Chef Jett, a native of White Stone, grew up hunting, fishing and spending time around her family’s gardens and began her understanding of food preparation at a young age. She later attended Johnson and Wales University in Norfolk, graduating at the top of her class with an A.A.S. in culinary arts. Chef Jett makes it a priority to continue her culinary education and travels every year to various events to further her knowledge and techniques in an always-changing environment.

She describes her culinary style as “modern American cuisine,” and the name Town Bistro was chosen not for the French cuisine influence, but for the style of intimate, family owned and operated neighborhood bistros in Europe. Jett and Messner strive for the restaurant to be a “customer friendly, come-as-you-are kind of place. Upscale without the uppity.” Their philosophy is simply that they want their customers to be happy and believe it’s important to establish relationships. Jett describes it as a “reciprocal process.”

Chef Jett sources their products locally whenever possible, including local asparagus, tomatoes and soft shells, and says “Fresh is always best.”

We thoroughly enjoyed experiencing the deliciousness that is Town Bistro and might just start with dessert on our next visit!

If You Go

Town Bistro
62 Irvington Road,
Kilmarnock
(804) 435-0070

Open

Wednesday-Saturday,
5 p.m.-close
Reservations suggested.
http://www.townbistro.com

Salads, soup, appetizers, entrees, desserts

Beer, wine, full bar available

Entrees: $17 to $28

Did you know?

Make a reservation. With only 7 tables, this little restaurant fills up fast!

Wednesday and Thursday night specials: 3-course dinners, soup or salad, any entree and dessert for $25. Offered year around.

See Town Bistro’s Facebook page for menus, photos and events.

posted 06.17.2010

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