With Valentine’s Day a little more than two weeks away, it’s time to start thinking about where to enjoy a romantic dinner for two. Soft lighting, a quiet ambience, warm and assured service, and some luxurious menu offerings are but a few of the elements that are needed to insure a special evening. Although its storefront setting and decor are unremarkable, Daniel’s Bistro by the Sea in Avon comes across as a charming little spot for an intimate dinner, and indeed possesses all of the aforementioned qualities. Add in the fact that it is BYO as well, and it becomes a fine destination for a night out with your sweetheart, holiday or not.
Although billed as a bistro, from the amuse-bouche, a demitasse cup of cream of tomato soup served with a crunchy slice of bruschetta, to an after-dinner entremet of a small, dense, chocolate brownie with raspberry sauce, it is quite apparent that this modest place has greater ambitions; many of the menu selections also confirm these aspirations.
A starter of Ahi Tuna Tower ($14) arrived as an artful cylinder of layers of sushi grade tuna, avocado, sweet red pepper and tomato, garnished with wasabi, pickled ginger, and soy. A bit too cold at the outset, the flavors became less muted and the texture more pronounced as it warmed on the plate.
It was hard to resist sampling a personal favorite: cold Seafood Salad ($13); an ample portion of scungilli and calamari, topped with a large butterflied shrimp, and dressed with lemon/olive oil marinade, celery, bits of onion and fresh herbs. A refreshing starter, but unfortunately, marred by the overly chewy rings of squid.
A solid home run was the Array of Wild Mushrooms ($12), sliced shiitake, crimini and oyster mushrooms, in a rich sauté of cognac, a trace of cream, and black truffle butter. Decadent? Yes, but light on its feet, and eaten with the accompanying toasted baguette slices, it was one of our favorite dishes.
Another sensual starter was the plate of six, chilled, sparkling Malpeque Oysters ($14). A trio of dipping sauces, red cocktail, mignonette, and spicy pepper, offered something for every taste.
Although pork, lamb, duck and steak entrees were also on the menu, my guests and I gravitated towards an all-seafood evening; after all, we were dining in Avon-by-the Sea.
That notwithstanding, the promise of a garnish of bacon gnocchi with the Arctic Char ($28) was enough to entice us to order the dish. The thick piece of pan-seared fish, prepared with Chablis, capers, truffle butter and sautéed spinach, proved to be a very satisfying choice.
Barramundi ($32), a domestically farm-raised Asian Sea bass is not a common menu choice, but one worth sampling. The tender white fish, sautéed in EVOO (extra virgin olive oil), white wine, truffle black butter and basil, was served over risotto with a hint of pecorino Romano; the addition of two sautéed shrimp completed the presentation.
An order of Baby Bok Choy ($7), fresh ginger, soy, olive oil and roast garlic, made an excellent side dish.
A lighter dish, Gulf Shrimp ($29), cooked in EVOO, roast garlic, a splash of white wine, freshly diced tomatoes and herbs, was fresh and perfectly cooked, but under seasoned for some tastes.
What we drank: a pair of California Chardonnays, 2012 Arnot-Roberts Trout Gulch, and 2012 Artesa Estate Reserve. The former leaner, less buttery; the latter, oilier and oakier. A pair of Pinots: 2009 Brittan Vineyards Gestalt Block from Oregon, more structured and sparer, and a somewhat diffuse 2014 Meioma Sonoma Pinot. In hindsight, this food would pair better with white and red Burgundy, and/or Barolo. I like more acidity and structure in the wines when food is richer, in order to provide contrast and counterbalance, and to refresh the palate between bites; not unlike drizzling balsamic vinegar onto mozzarella and tomato to set off the creaminess with crispness.
In the spirit of sharing, a tableside preparation of just-made, warm Zabaglione ($12), over blueberries, raspberries, blackberries and strawberries, was more than enough for two. This luscious, but light, creamy egg custard, covered the tart, crunchy berries, and was the dish of the night. Loved it!
Just when we were groaning from overindulgence, out came that bonus plate of miniature brownies, which were so good that the vow of “just a little taste” wound up being much more than a little! Worth every bite!
Yes, much of this food is even better when shared and savored with a loved one. The generous use of truffle butters, cream, foie gras, bacon and cognac, in some of the dishes, created a sensuous mouth feel that made the meal an out-of-the-ordinary treat. But isn’t that what a Valentine’s Day Dinner should be all about?
Daniel’s Bistro by the Sea
526 Main St.
Avon By the Sea
Bob Sacks, longtime food and wine buff, reviews restaurants in this bimonthly column. Read his reviews here.
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