Western New York is blessed with a great restaurant scene. It's certainly one of the best things about living here. You can find just about any cuisine (with a few lacking...ahem...authentic Mexican). There are numerous great restaurants with a multitude of talented chefs and restaurateurs, many of them quite young. Supporting these young chefs and eating great food is a passion of many Western New Yorkers, myself included.
Recently, I had the pleasure of dining at one of Western New York's great restaurants: Bistro Europa. My wife and I traveled there on a Saturday night and met my cousin and his wife.
Bistro Europa is owned and operated by Ellen and Steven Gedra. The Gedras prepare nearly everything from scratch and their menu changes daily. They call their cuisine "Pan-European", but the menu really knows no bounds. Ellen and Steve are passionate about using local ingredients produced by local farmers and employ nose-to-tail cooking.
Here's a look at the outside of the restaurant before we walked in:
The restaurant is tiny and can only seat 28 at a time with a full bar. It's smaller than even the tiniest restaurants I've been to in Europe, but don't let the size fool you. The selection of great dishes that come out of their tiny kitchen is hardly small.
The place was packed the entire time we were there. We had reservations at 6:30 p.m., which I suggest you make if you plan on trying the great food there. In fact, the restaurant was booked until at least 9:30 p.m. that night and many groups that didn't have reservations were turned away at the door. Our table wasn't quite ready so my wife and I sat at a high-top table and enjoyed a drink. Bistro Europa has a nice wine list with some decent selections. The beer list is eclectic and packed with some great choices. While we waited, I enjoyed a Union Jack IPA from Firestone Walker Brewing Company (Paso Robles, CA). When my cousin and his wife arrived, we had some time to chat and he enjoyed a Bitter Sweet Lenny's R.I.P.A. which is part of the "He'brew, The Chosen Beer" line from Schmaltz Brewing Company (Clifton Park, NY). Both were excellent!
After a decent wait, the table was available and we all sat down. Then, the tough part began: trying to make selections from a menu with so many things that looked incredible. After much thought and discussion, we finally made our selections and placed our order.
My cousin's wife ordered the soup of the night which was Chard and Bean. While the soup was hot and tasty, it did not have a lot of beans or chard.
This was the appetizer that I selected:
Char Siu T-Meadow Pork Belly with house cured pickles. Char Siu is a method of seasoning and barbecuing pork in Cantonese cuisine. Traditionally, the meat is marinated in a mixture of honey, five spice powder, red fermented bean curd, hoisin, dark soy sauce and rice wine. The meat is usually cut into long strips, skewered and placed in the oven. The meat is from T-Meadow Farm which is an amazing place in Lockport, New York. T-Meadow raises herritage pigs and supplies some of the best local restaurants. Steven has been a long-standing supporter of T-Meadow Farm and uses their product as much as possible (a recurrent theme with that night's menu).
The pork belly was delicious! It was cooked perfectly and melted in your mouth. The sauce was spicy and sweet. The hoisin worked wonderfully with the pork. It was charred nicely. The house-cured pickles were sweet and delicious. They had some latent heat which was welcomed and cut right through the richness of the pork fat.
Here's my wife's appetizer, also featuring some T-Meadow Farm pork:
Pierogi of the day with T-Meadow Pork, cabbage and onion. We got the portion with 6 so we could all share them. They were fantastic and we all enjoyed them. They had plenty of pork and cabbage, and some cheese, which I'm assuming was some type of farmer's cheese. They were browned perfectly and were the perfect version of pork comfort food.
One thing we had try as it's on the menu most days is "Ellen's Breadbasket". The selection of breads Ellen bakes for it each day changes frequently. On the night we went, the selection included sourdough, pretzel roll and challah. This is what the basket looked like when it arrived:
The bread was warm and delectable. The little touches that show an attentive chef were obvious in the well made bread and the fact that the challah was toasted gently and still warm when the basket hit the table.
This is what you get with the bread:
At the top of the photo is extra virgin olive oil to dip your bread. While I'm sure it was good, the star was what was in the other ramekin: Burro di Chianti, or, literally, "Chianti's Butter". I've read that Steven learned to make this recipe from Italy's most famous butcher - Dario Cecchini. Steven's version is made from house cured lardo (mmm...more T-Meadow pork) mixed with rosemary, salt, black pepper, vinegar and lemon zest. Steven's love for lardo has even been featured in Gourmet Magazine.
Everyone at the table loved the Burro. It was delicious and melted on the warm breads. Yeah, yeah...it's not a health food, but you got to live a little! So good. You have to try it!
I took a lot of time deciding on an entree. They all sounded so good. I was considering the skate wing cheeks until a server walked by with a dish that smelled so good, I knew I had to have it. My cousin's wife ended up choosing the same thing, which my cousin ultimately finished. Here's my plate:
T-Meadow Pork Ragu with house-made gnocchi, house-cured pancetta and house-made ricotta. This was a show stopper. The sauce was rich with porky goodness and the ricotta paired perfectly with it: it was bright and fresh and matched with the richness of the sauce quite well. The only problem was that I'd enjoyed so much other food up to that point, I couldn't finish the portion. No worries as I took the rest home.
My wife and cousin ended up choosing the same entree as well:
Korean Fried Chicken. The chicken used is free range chicken raised at Ole's Farms in Alden, New York. The dish featured the thigh and leg and was served with house-cured pickles and vegetables. It also featured a chili glaze. This was the least successful dish of the night, unfortunately. While the chicken was cooked properly and the outside wonderfully crisp, the batter or breading used needed more seasoning, as did the chili glaze. The glaze was sweet, but not spicy enough. There were also a few different ways the dish was plated. My wife and cousin had their sauce under the chicken, but we noticed another diner before us had the sauce partially poured over the chicken. It looked more appetizing that way. A small detail, though.
That aside, we had a wonderfully rounded meal that was solid on all levels. A great dining experience. I was ready to go...until my cousin said he wanted dessert. I wasn't going to have anything, but then I remembered the wonderful things people had told me about this dessert made by Ellen:
Sticky toffee pudding. The meal was great and Steven and his team did such a great job...but this dessert was worth the price of admission and then some! It was served piping hot and had a generous portion of whipped cream, which is in the process of melting in this photograph. It was indeed sticky, sweet and had that wonderful toffee flavor you were expecting. The cake was moist and delicious. Another dish you have to try!
You've got to check out Bistro Europa. I didn't have enough space in my stomach to try the other dishes that sounded amazing like the aforementioned skate cheeks, as well as T-Meadow Porchetta di Testa, Local Beets 5 Ways and the Bigeye Tuna.
We'll be back and I can't wait to see what the options on the menu will be. Also coming is a bigger space when the restaurant moves to the West Side next year. Even though the restaurant will be getting bigger, I'm betting you'll still get the same great quality and attention to detail which has gotten Ellen and Steven a well-deserved following.
© The Nittany Epicurean, 2013. All Rights Reserved.