Kerrytown Bistro rebounds and scores
By LAURA McREYNOLDS
News Restaurant Reviewer
JAN 16 1997
I have two words for the Kerrytown Bistro: welcome back.
It’s been a bumpy ride for the French provincial restaurant located in the northwest corner of Kerrytown. During the past eight years, it’s seen half a dozen different owners, innumerable waitstaff, a handful of chefs and several different managers. Each time things changed, the restaurant has struggled to keep its loyal core of regular customers while at the same time freshening things up to attract new ones. It hasn’t always been successful.
Now, thanks to new management and a new head chef, the new Kerrytown Bistro is, quite simply, better than it’s been in years. This newest incarnation was bom last November, when co-owners Jim Craig and Dr. Ronald Cresswell mutually agreed to a parting of the ways. Cresswell, who heads up research and development at Parke-Davis, bought Craig out of the business and installed Ann Arbor newcomer Michelle Ruiz as general manager.
Also new on board is head chef Andrew Nichol, who joined the staff last summer as a temporary replacement while then-chef John Wayne Miller was out with an injury. Customer response was overwhelmingly enthusiastic. In short time Nichol was offered a permanent gig.
Together, Cresswell, Ruiz and Nichol have been mastering the art of keeping things more or less the same while subtly improving them.
“Most of our guests are dedicated regulars who’ve been coming here for eight years,” explains Ruiz. “We’ve kept many of the dishes they request over and over again, and, at the same time, we’ve added a few new dishes, and we’re experimenting with others as daily specials.”
When it comes to the decor, the Bistro’s new management has had the good sense to leave well enough alone. With its warm brick walls, beautiful ironwork and rich, dark wood, the Bistro has the simple, quiet appeal of a fresh-baked baguette and a bottle of good Bordeaux.
Two of my favorite Bistro appetizers remain on the menu: the lush seafood crepes and the wonderful vegetable pie. The former is a light, delicately spongy crepe wrapped around sweet lobster meat, butter-soft scallops and shrimp in a fragrant tomato cream spiked with white wine. lt is worth every penny of its $9 tab. The pie’s rich, buttery crust is packed with a tender melange of leeks, carrots, celery, mushrooms and spinach served atop a pool of white wine and tarragon cream. Yes, this is every bit as good as it sounds.
Nichol’s twists on Bistro old reliables include sumptuous tenderloin filets seasoned with lots of pepper and garlic and served with a Roquefort sauce and caramelized onions; and lamb shanks in red wine with slow-cooked potatoes, carrots, onions and garlic, a dish so perfectly, wonderfully soul-satisfying that it caused a friend of mine to burst out with, “This is just like my Mommy used to make on Sundays!” then blush with embarrassment at the diminutive the lamb’s nostalgic flavor had wrested from her.
I liked the new stuff, too, including a clean-tasting, impressively simple tuna steak encrusted with sesame and poppy seeds and artichoke-stuffed ravioli in a wild mushroom sauce brightened with chives. One dinner companion thought the pasta was undercooked. Maybe, by about 30 seconds. But I thought its toothsome bite was just right.
Desserts range from light, sensibly refreshing lemon sorbet to one of the most delightfully decadent desserts I’ve had anywhere: black cherry ice cream balled inside a pecan cookie crust and served on a bed of chocolate sauce. Save room. It’s worth it.
The Bistro offers some of the most thoughtful, well-paced service in town, administered by a seasoned staff who know their way around the menu and the wine list. One popular server,
Sheila, has been on staff so long, she predates current management, most of the kitchen, and the Bistro’s current owner. Her good-humored, unselfconscious tableside manner is an excellent example of the Bistro’s relaxed, yet professional style.
By the way, until the Bistro’s lunch menu has been revamped, it remains the restaurant’s one weak link, with a disappointing shredded duck salad and a vegetable casserole made up almost entirely of pearl onions. But never mind. Given the quality of the new brunch and dinner menus, the new lunch menu - due out within the next couple of weeks - should be quite good indeed.
The Kerrytown Bistro
415 N. Fourth Ave., in Kerrytown 994-6424
Food.............9 out of 10
Service..........9 out of 10
Atmosphere......9 out of 10
Hours: lunch - Tuesday-Friday 11:30 a.m.-2 p.m.; Saturday & Sunday brunch 10:30 a.m.-2 p.m.; dinner -Sunday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday 5-9 p.m., Friday & Saturday 5-10 p.m. Closed Mondays.
Liquor: full bar, rotating wine list.
Plastic: most major credit cards.
Prices: moderately expensive; lunch entrees $5-$8, dinner entrees $13.95-$21.95.
Wheelchair access: The
restaurant is accessible, including a large rest room with grab bars, but you have to go out of your way to find a curb cut off Kerrytown's Fourth Avenue parking lot.