By Laura Giovanelli | Journal Reporter
Published: March 4, 2010
Address: 126-G S. Main St., Kernersville.
Hours: 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. seven days a week.
Type of cuisine: For dinner, which my review is based on, boldly flavored small plates and bistro fare with a heavy Greek and Spanish bent. Salads and such sandwiches as Reubens are the norm at lunch.
Alcohol: Beer and wine, but the real star is the wine list -- plenty of choices by the glass, from aromatic Oregon Pinot Gris to such food-friendly light Italian reds as Barbera. There's a particular emphasis on Spanish wines, and dry and sweet sherries.
Health-department rating: 96 percent.
Price range: Lunch: $4.95 to $8.95. Dinner: Tapas, mezze and appetizers: $3.95 to $8.95. Entrees: $13.95 to $23.95; Desserts: $5.95.
Credit cards: MasterCard, Visa, Discover.
Atmosphere: Simple, warm, small -- kraft paper-topped tables, votive candles.
The wait: None, but it's a little place, so reservations could be a good idea.
Service: Still green, but eager and generous.
Be sure to try: Cauliflower gratin; olives; shrimp with garlic and chiles; calamari, pork and orange sausage with black-eyed peas; beef carpaccio; sauteed spinach with golden raisins, apples and pine nuts; scallops with romesco sauce; bread pudding; chocolate mousse; Grand Marnier cheesecake.
Stay away from: Fried oysters.
Will I go back? Yes, yes, yes!
Kernersville has always been this go-between area for me. I always feel like I'm rushing through on Business 40. Whipping by are the ubiquitous neon lights of interstate interchanges -- here a big-box store, there a mattress warehouse, fast-food drive-throughs and gas stations. Set well to the north of all that, Kernersville's sweet downtown can get overlooked. In about three seconds, we're all on our way to somewhere else.
And suddenly, happily, there's reason to come to a screeching halt at dinnertime, and that's Bistro B & Wine Bar, a small-town restaurant with big-town taste.
Tucked into a narrow alley off Main Street, Bistro B is pretty enough to look at: walls in shades of mustardy-brown, library-like shelves. Fairy lights twinkle outside through wide windows, echoed by votives on tables topped with white napery and kraft paper.
But to eat!
Gambas al ajillo (garlicky, spicy shrimp) slide up next to such bistro hits as hanger steak and frites. A side of sauteed spinach is cut with golden raisins, apples and pine nuts. There are traditional entrees and trendy small plates; mezze and tapas; shallow bowls of olives, slightly warmed; and cured chorizo, and steak frites. Black-eyed peas share plates with mavrofassoula me loukaniko, salty pork sausage with a floral orange undercurrent. There's bread pudding -- dreamy bread pudding -- caramelized and currant-laced. There are seared scallops, anchored by a smear of smoky romesco sauce and the vegetal crunch of rappini fried to an airy crisp.
Bistro B opened in late December, the collaboration of three siblings: James and Timothy Bocholis, and Sandra Powell. Timothy cooks. He's half-Greek but has cooked in Venezuela, Spain, Washington, Miami, California and Greensboro (he owned Valencias Tapas Bar and Restaurant). His menu is a travelogue, a photo album, snapshots of dishes familiar and new, all a jumble of delicious.
That small-town feeling hasn't gone away altogether -- for the bad and the good. There's a harried, frazzled air about the servers. Either there isn't enough wait staff or they're just not organized or trained. Your server could literally get pulled away in the middle of taking your order to deliver dishes or print checks. Sometimes you'll get a few slices of good bread to start your meal. Sometimes not. A shame. It comes with a side of olive oil, deep and green and poured around a sprig of rosemary and a single clove of garlic.
I've been to plenty of restaurants where you feel as if you're just a means to an end: a bill, a tip, another turn on a frenetic Friday night. Here, the staff seems -- once you get their full attention -- as if they're on your side. They'll bring sips of wines you're unsure about and watch out for bottles that have gone bad. They'll pace your tapas and steer you toward their favorites, gently.
Prices, too, are small-town. One night, we ate like kings for just above $80 -- beef carpaccio layered with roasted red peppers, flakes of parmesan and an umami-heavy anchovy-caper emulsion; mushrooms drizzled with sherry; squid and scallops and a salad jumbled with duck prosciutto, chevre, cashews and hearts of palm. We wiped a bowl of silky homemade aioli clean, dragging peppery calamari through it. It renewed faith in a dish that needed to be slashed from most of the world's menus 10 years ago. I mean, we argued over the last piece.
The same with a cauliflower and parmesan gratin, lush and warm, oniony and nutty. It's self-consciously adorable, dished up in a petite cast-iron pan. It could have come in a tin can. It was eye-rolling good.
Fried oysters -- probably the only weak dish I've had here -- were not. Watery shellfish is a flaw not even bacon-chipotle remoulade can disguise. I'm racking my brain for another misstep -- it's important for a critic to be critical, right? Maybe a salad with a little too much vinaigrette?
Lunch -- a burger, a Reuben, a chicken panini -- I haven't had. It sounds pedestrian, though I'd bet someone money that this kitchen makes a mean gyro.
You could keep things simple at supper and order an entree. But the smaller plates are so varied, so well-done and fairly priced, it's the way I'd go. This is not a tapas bar where you will leave feeling hungry and fleeced (and they are many).
Don't run away before dessert. You can't go wrong with the bread pudding, but there is usually an alternative flavored with Grand Mariner -- crème brulee or a good cheesecake. I hope a deep chocolate mousse, a special, stays around.
Licking your spoon, you'll notice a diner stop by a front table. Another, headed toward the door, is halfway into her coat when she spots friends. It seems like everyone knows other here. All of them are happy with wine and a snug place to eat on a cold night. Bistro B is a corner diner, with Oregon Pinot Gris and Spanish rose. It's Kernersville. Small town. Great aioli.