Loren Means gives us a snapshot of what to expect at Bistro 31, Alberto Lombardi’s newest creation in Highland Park Village.
What to expect: Prolific restaurateur Alberto Lombardi’s newest creation is in the heart of Highland Park Village. The restaurant is named to honor the year the original structure was built in: 1931. On my trip to the bistro, the Village was packed with shoppers and locals enjoying the holidays. With the holidays in full swing, you might be pressed to find a parking spot but there is valet parking available next door.
Setup: The interior is sleek and elegant without feeling stuffy or fancy. Beautiful chandeliers, which were immediately identifiable as Murano glass, hang from the ceilings above the marble topped tables. The floors are oak herringbone, the booths are covered in cream-colored leather, and abstract paintings on the white walls create a very European feel. The open-air patio, tiled floors, and two tops spilling out onto the sidewalk create a true bistro feel. You could be in Italy or the south of France. We opted for a sidewalk table. The weather was perfect for outdoor dining and the ceiling of Christmas lights from all the trees created a lovely atmosphere. If you choose to dine al fresco during the day, I would forgo the sidewalk option as you may feel like you’re eating in a parking lot without the night sky and Christmas lights to disguise it. Additionally, the actual patio has heating and air conditioning as well as a retractable roof that will keep you dry should the weather take a turn.
On the menu: I frequent a handful of Lombardi’s restaurants and have a love affair with Taverna, so I was excited to try Bistro 31. The menu offers dishes from Spain, Italy, and France. They have a broad selection of starters, soups and salads, pastas, and mains. Everything sounded so delicious we had a hard time making decisions. While the house crostini sampler sounded appealing (you can have your choice of three for $7.5 or five for $12) we decided to save that for a happy hour day and moved on to the real stars. To start we had the Steak Tartare “31 style” and the Steamed Pei Mussels. The steak tartare, a blend of Kobe beef and filet, has a hint of Dijon mustard flavor and is served with toast points. The meat melted in my mouth. The mussels have a Spanish flare and were swimming in a slightly spicy sauce studded with chorizo, potatoes, and calabrese chiles. Before our entrees came out, we decided to split the roasted beet and burrata salad. The presentation was stunning with both red and golden beets as well as heirloom cherry tomatoes. The combination of the three ingredients was light, yet indulgent. For our entrées we ordered the Trofie pasta and the Brioche Crusted Lemon Sole. The pasta was cooked to perfection and although it was boasting a Parmesan cream sauce we could still taste the individual flavors of the pancetta and roasted cauliflower. It was wonderful, but a little on the rich side, so splitting was a good choice. The sole was lightly breaded which enabled us to enjoy the fresh flavor of the fish and the béarnaise aioli was served on the side to allow us to control the amount we wanted to use. The fish is served over a bed of Yukon potato mousseline, which needed a quick hit from the salt fairy but were otherwise creamy and buttery as mashed potatoes should be.