There’s something about the term “international” that makes it a sort of red flag when judging a restaurant by its menu cover. It’s understandable prejudice on one hand — jack-ofall-trades, master of none, bringing to mind half-assed buffets and ubiquitous houses of pancakes.
But on the other hand, it shouldn’t preclude restaurants from making it their signature. There are, to start, infinite examples of cross-culture culinary adaptations: vodka sauce, meatball grinders, sushi burritos, quesadilla burgers, not to mention the magical journey Chinese food has taken in the U.S.
Too, given the globalization of food culture (let alone, culture), rarer is the American chef that specializes in one cuisine, it seems, than the chef who takes from all and creates his or her own international, for all intents and purposes, style. No drop in quality, and unique creations are made.
Such is the case with Bistro 503 in Lafayette. Hidden in the small indoor mall next to Jax Mercantile, the caliber of cooking and ambiance inside the restaurant is a wild surprise.
At brunch one recent Saturday, we reviewed a varied menu over a powerful bloody mary and a mimosa. On that menu, you’ll find a prime rib sandwich, chicken marsala, pad thai, pupusas, and salmon with eggs benedict. Let the voyage begin.
When three plates came, I couldn’t resist the prettiest one. Three charred jumbo scallops topped with thin, crispy onion, sitting on risotto with julienned zucchini in a balsamic and pesto base. Swiping down with the fork put it all in one bite, and delivered balance in both flavor and feel. The scallops, each large but with varying shape, were cooked to perfection — tender, juicy and just at the edge of opaque with a crispy, bitter char. The risotto was firm but moist, and proved a good vessel for the pesto, zucchini and balsamic vinegar.
There were so many moving parts in that dish that were executed so perfectly that I started to rue how hidden Bistro 503 is, and how the only other diners seemed to be regulars given the friendly banter between chef and guest. This is a dish that would take time to learn to recreate, and even longer to think of.
Shameless marveling continued with the stuffed chayote. Typically used for Bistro 503 400 W. South Boulder Road, Lafayette, 720-583-2596 nothing in this country, the chayote is like a crisp, mild squash used in Central American and Southeast Asian cuisine. It’s not easy to cook, and here it was “stuffed” with pepper jack cheese, lightly breaded and fried and served over parmesan risotto and tomato sauce.
Balance here was found in feel — the chayote was crisp outside, juicy and soft inside, like a lesstart jicama, and the risotto was again a solid base for the moving parts in the dish.
What wasn’t a home run, maybe a double, were the breakfast pupusas. Buttery and crisp, the flatbreads were sparsely packed with bacon, ham and sausage, with two fried eggs, jack cheese and avocado slices on top. The flavors didn’t fully blend with the chicharron salsa, and the pupusas (gluten-free) disintegrated with each forking. The flavors were there individually, but they needed some help to meld.
It is also worth noting that regular breakfast and lunch menu items generally don’t exceed $10, which is remarkable given the quality of the dishes offered.
Bistro 503 takes chances and succeeds more often than not. It is an example in how to do international fare well — rein in the menu scope, focus on fresh ingredients, and it also doesn’t hurt to be an innovative, confident and skilled chef.