For Mothers’ Day, Julio surprised me with a “chef’s table” dinner at the Cornerstone Bistro in downtown Caldwell. (Quite a drive for us, but SO VERY WORTH IT!) The restaurant is on the second floor of an old building and is touted as “elegant rustic.” I love the description from their website:
“For the epicurean adventurer, our Chef's table is a unique dining experience focused on seasonal, regionally sourced ingredients. Unlike dining in a typical American restaurant, our guests are seated European style at a communal table. This is designed to foster exciting conversation with new found friends, over an expertly prepared meal. Our Chef Benjamin Thorpe will be joining you to personally present each course and to discuss the inspiration behind each menu selection.”
“Elegant rustic” certainly sums up the décor and the ambience. After hiking up lumpy, carpeted stairs of an old small town building, we arrived at what appeared to be the remnants of a Mexican restaurant. There was a large stucco water fountain (empty) and the floor looked like it had been stripped to the subflooring and painted over in trendy colors. There were alcoves with clay tiles, hacienda style. The lighting was low and intimate and the tables were set with fancy placemats and mismatched flatware. I am always amazed at people who can pull off that kind of thing—if I try to do “elegant rustic” I end up with “messy” but this place was immaculate. Once in the dining room, we were seated at one end of a table for 12. We were the first to arrive, so it was fun to watch the other diners arrive and choose their seats. We knew no one else, but that didn’t stop us from making introductions and chatting.
Chef Ben came out and talked with us about what we’d be having for dinner. He was big, friendly, and excited to have us. (He looks all GQ in the photo, but he’s so approachable. In fact, one gal at the table asked if she could take Chef Ben home with her. (Ben’s wife informed us that he regularly gets marriage proposals from folks who love his food.) He talked to everyone about their preferences (there were two vegetarians and one gluten-free person) and made substitutions for them that made the rest of us wish we were vegans and allergic to wheat! Ben told us we would not go away hungry and if we were still hungry after dessert, to let him know and he’d make sure that was solved. He needn’t have worried. All courses were portioned perfectly. (Ben told us over dessert that he always makes extra and his servers love it, because if his patrons don’t eat it, they can have it!) I was half tempted to say I was still hungry just so I could take extras home!
The food was amazing. Our menu:
Spring greens salad with gin vinaigrette and lime relish
Roasted pepper and tomato bisque
Seared scallop with root vegetable mousse finished with herb white wine creme
Prime rib loin with Cabernet gastrique over Pommes gratin
Everything tasted so light and fresh! I wish we’d taken pictures, because everything was beautifully presented.
We loved the food, the atmosphere and our servers (some teen boys in jackets, black toques, and board shorts.)
I will say that the group of folks we ate with were older, foodies, and a bit stodgy, except for the gal that sat next to me, who got more entertaining with each wine pairing. Everyone was fascinated by Julio, which is natural, given his exotic good looks, charming hint of an accent, and his wit.
At any rate, we loved the ambience, the food, Chef Ben and his tribe, and can’t wait to go back (only next time, we’re inviting friends, so the conversation can be as stellar as the food!)