BOWLING GREEN — Drive down main street too fast and you might miss this little restaurant with an unassuming door.
But if you know where to look, you'll find Naslada Bistro, 182 S. Main St., a gem among the many small businesses that line the main strip.
Entering the restaurant takes you to a charming European village, where cooking is king. The aroma of spices greet you at the door. Branches of sticks hang from the ceiling resembling a thatched roof. Traditional clothing and textiles line the wall, making it a cozy atmosphere for a date, family, or just a relaxed evening with friends.
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Eating at the bistro is like taking a world tour of Europe. For appetizers we stopped at Rome for colorful Bruschetta ($8.99), Greece for raisin-and-rice-stuffed Grape Leaves ($6.99), and Bulgaria for sharp and salty grilled goat milk feta spread on toasted bread ($7.99). We found ourselves lingering in France with a delicious Tartine ($10.99), or an open-faced sandwich, as it was artfully constructed with fluffy bread smothered with a spicy vegetable-based spread, mushrooms, peppers, garlic, and, of course, Bulgarian feta. It took my companions and me back to the days of our first encounters with the intoxicating smell of garlic.
The chef and owner, Boyko S. Mitov, should be applauded for offering many of the starters, including soups, with vegetarian and gluten free options. The soup menu — a cup is $2.99 and a bowl is $4.50 — features lentil, mini meatballs, and monastery bean soups, as well as American classics such as chicken noodle, and chili.
For dinner, don't be shy to try some of the Bulgarian wine that is offered on the extensive wine list. We thought the Via Diagonalis ($9) and the Barbarians Wealth Mavrud ($6), balanced and smooth reds offered by the glass, paired well with hearty main courses, many of which are traditional Bulgarian dishes.
We were disappointed to learn the kitchen had run out of Mousaka and stuffed peppers; however, our informative waiter helped us choose alternatives, including old fashioned pork kavarma ($16.99), slices of pork served in a saucy mix of onions, leeks, and peppers.
From the organic menu I chose beef in a clay pot ($19.99). Tender chunks of grass-fed beef were slowly stewed in a robust tomato and wine sauce. It was warm, tender, and belly-filling.
A common consistency throughout the dishes was the balance in taste achieved by using an array of spices and herbs, including cumin, oregano, and cayenne pepper.
A companion chose a catch of the day ($19.99) salmon, that was cooked to perfect pinkness, served with fresh asparagus.
Patrons have the option to end the meal in the traditional European fashion, with a cup of Turkish coffee. However, we chose to indulge in a currant-filled crepe ($4.99), and cake style baklava ($2.50), served in a pool of syrupy liquid.
Considering the blend of plates offered, the quality of the food, and reasonable price, it is dismaying that the dining area was fairly empty on a Saturday night.
When I returned for lunch I was surprised the menu had changed. Each wheat-based item could be switched out for gluten free bread or pasta. The waiter said the chef was working on a vegan menu to be unveiled in the next week or so.
We tried the Tartine again, made with gluten free bread ($12.99). Although the bread was not as fluffy as the original dish, the alternative had some airiness and enough bite that one with or without food allergies could enjoy it.
The menu is so extensive, I passed over a selection of salads to try the Tuscan pepper panini ($10.99). Pressed between two slices of sun-dried tomato bread was a stack of ham, turkey, garlic-laced avocado, Brie, arugula, and onions. Separately the ingredients would be dull, but together, they formed a super sandwich that was rich and robust.
I also tried the Kavarma ($16.99) again, this time with shrimp. It was outshined by the other dishes I had tasted before
Naslada Bistro has something for everyone and even offers a kid's menu. It truly aims to offer an authentic European experience by opening a world of new tastes to each patron that walks through the door.
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Star ratings are based on comparisons of similar restaurants. The Blade pays for critics' meals.