Critic's star breakdown
- Food: 4.5 stars (out of five)
- Service: 3.5
- Atmosphere: 4
- Overall: 4
Market Square needs another Mexican-food restaurant like Kim Kardashian needs more attention. Which is why the already-established LaCosta on Market Square recently underwent a major overhaul, shifting away from Latin cuisine and taking a new "farm to table" approach to its menu.
This means that the owners are focusing on cuisine that relies more on organically and locally grown meats and produce. Of course, these changes aren't readily noticeable to previous LaCosta patrons who step into 31 Bistro for the first time, as The Grub Spouse and I did on a recent rainy evening.
The menu rarely indicates which items are locally or organically grown, so that was negated as a factor as The Spouse and I looked things over.
The starters section presented a unique and eclectic assortment, including deviled farm eggs (OK, I'm sure those are local), veggie muffins and frites with house mayo. We were intrigued by the fried chick peas ($5), so we put in an order. We also tried a small plate (a carryover concept from LaCosta), ordering the duck breast quesadilla ($12) instead of fish tacos or a sweet potato burrito. They were out of the terrine and calamari that night.
We went ahead and made our entrée selections soon after. Several of the 10 or so dishes piqued our interest, including beef and pork meatballs, fried chicken, pan-seared grouper, potato gnocchi and rainbow trout.
What steered us away, in some cases, was our lack of interest in some of the included sides, such as sweet potato puree and sautéed greens.
The Spouse got the Georgia smoked pork chop with sage butter rice, acorn squash and spinach ($19), and I ordered the shrimp and grits ($15) embellished by local cheddar cheese, green onion, Benton's bacon and Worcestershire sauce.
We had waited nearly 20 minutes for our appetizers when we were finally informed that they had accidentally been served to another table. So we had to wait for a re-cook. At least once they arrived, the chick peas were sizzling hot from the fryer. Amazingly, they tasted like hot, greasy chick peas. They were enjoyable, but we both really liked the duck quesadilla, which, although it seemed skimpy on the actual duck breast, still benefited from caramelized onions and manchego cheese.
We were at least given time to enjoy our apps before the entrees arrived, and they were both excellent. The shrimp themselves were good but outdone, in my opinion, by the blend of dense grits and aforementioned enhancements. The bacon and Worcestershire sauce in particular dressed up the smoothly flavored grits nicely.
The big winner was the massively thick pork 8-ounce chop. Wrapped in bacon and countered wonderfully by an apple demi glace, its flavor was bold, which balanced well with the multilayered mash-up of rice, squash and spinach.
For dessert, we felt compelled to order the Tennessee stack cake ($7), an Appalachian original that we'd never seen on a menu before. Served warm, topped with powdered sugar and featuring cooked apples between its thick cakey layers (although stack cake should have multiple thin layers of cake, says The Spouse), this after-dinner treat was a sweet original.
I felt that in general, the pricing was pushing the limits of good value, although I understand that there is usually a premium to be paid for the "organic" label. But, errant appetizers notwithstanding, you can count me as a fan of almost all of 31's flavors.