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Published: Thursday, 11/1/2012

Secor Building houses American gourmet bistro

BILL OF FARE
A dinner dish from Registry Bistro. A dinner dish from Registry Bistro.
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Seen sturgeon, duck, venison, roasted chestnuts, or fresh cheese curd on the menu lately?

How about a steel-cut oat risotto with mushrooms, smoked almonds, and BellaVitano cheese?

Modern food, artful and modestly portioned, defines the new Registry Bistro in the 1908 Secor Building downtown. There's simply nothing else like it in town.

Owners are a daughter/mother team (Chef Erika Rapp, trained at the Culinary Institute of America, and manager/hostess Vickie Rapp). The renovation of part of the lobby-level former hotel resulted in a chic mix of contemporary (furniture, art, and appointments), classic (French doors open to charming balconettes on Superior Street), and slab-like cement pillars intersecting a partially exposed ceiling.

Registry Menu

Best of all is the innovative menu that changes with the season.

Open since June and casually elegant, Registry makes from scratch what few of us would venture at home.

Rich and creamy describe much of the fare, from soups (a curried sweet potato soup was exceptional) and appetizers to desserts.

First, some advice: Save room for and order dessert for two ($9, also works for four). It's a "flight" with samples of five homemade treats (we had a fantastic orange cake with a dark-chocolate ganache, pumpkin-chai bread pudding, maple/carmel pudding, apple-cinnamon ice cream, and a chocolate pie). Individual desserts are $5.

The grilled teres beef steak ($25, a shoulder cut), drizzled whiskey-bacon butter topping tender medallions, was everything a steak should be. Its companions, parsnip gratin and pickled sprout leaves, are better than you might imagine.

Succulent duck slices were grilled with rosemary and well paired with roasted grapes, currants, and farro (a wheat grain) ragout sauce ($28).

Also terrific was the duck and roasted butternut squash salad ($15), a hearty serving of chunks of duck and orange squash with peppered bacon, dark croutons (from pecan-raisin bread), and a smoked molasses vinaigrette. Bacon, the "it" food of bistros, shows up in bacon jam, pancetta (Italian bacon), and peppered varieties.

A recent Saturday special was a most satisfying tilefish ($27): firm, white meat on a small bed of spicy lentils, it was topped with a delicious brussel sprout slaw. One of two vegetarian plates was a delicious big bowl of steel-cut oats ($15) given a creamy risotto treatment with mushrooms, almonds, and a little cheese.

Perfect for whetting four appetites was the 12-slice naan "pizza" with pancetta, roasted fingerling potatoes, and a fried egg on top ($10). Just as fine for four was the "schmear" appetizer ($10): three spreads (pistachio/rosemary hummus, roasted veggies in a bit too much olive oil, and olive/cream cheese) to schmear on homemade pita chips.

Salads ($4 to $6) are equally intriguing: mixed greens with a maple-glazed pear, Parmesan crackers, and a cider-mustard dressing; my favorite -- apple and beet (golden and red) with cheese curd, sweet, toasted walnuts, and the molasses vinaigrette; roasted mushroom and romaine with peppered bacon, pickled red onions, and a creamy chestnut dressing.

Warm brown bread was pure lovin' from the oven. There's good espresso and locally roasted coffee (Flying Rhino), organic teas and tisanes (uncaffeinated herb/spice drinks).

The noise factor is high on weekends when the 128-seat place bustles; less so when the crowd is smaller (try early seatings and weekdays).

Rapp was a teen when she first worked in a commercial kitchen at Maumee Bay State Park. After the CIA in Hyde Park, N.Y., she cooked in Texas and Chicago before returning to Toledo in 2005 to run the kitchen at the former Diva's and then at the Toledo Museum of Art, which hosts special events and has a cafe.

As is the trend with this class of eatery, everything is a la carte, which adds up if several courses and alcohol are included. One can economize by ordering from the Light Fare section ($9 to $17) and foregoing additional temptations. Not dessert, of course.

Our servers were a bit too bistro-hip for my liking; on one visit, he wasn't always around when we needed him.

Note: The menu changes quarterly, but the Web site does not appear to keep pace. A friend who visited in summer recommended rabbit pot pie which is listed at Registry's online menu, but it's long-since been replaced by a seafood potpie ($18), served in a bowl with a pastry cap bearing a dollop of thick cream and a spoon of glistening orange sturgeon eggs. The mild broth was good but it had less seafood than I'd expected. Moreover, it was so hot I couldn't eat it until my companions were half into their plates.

Seatings, particularly on weekends, are booked for 90 minutes, and window-side tables must be reserved.

Parking: On street if all's quiet at the Huntington Center and Fifth Third Field. The Port Lawrence Garage across Jefferson Avenue connects to the Secor Building via a skyway (on Level 3). It's $5, enter from St. Clair Street.

Contact Bill of Fare at fare@theblade.com.

Address: 144 N. Superior St. at Jefferson Ave

Phone: 419-725-0444

Category: Business Casual

Menu: American gourmet

Hours: 5 to 10 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday; 5 to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Bar opens at 4 p.m. Reservations are recommended.

Wheelchair access: Yes (call ahead for entrance details).

Average price: $$$

Credit Cards: AE, Disc., MC, V.

Web site: www.registrybistro.com



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