This is an important place, this little nook that fits like a puzzle piece into the 30,000-square-foot, 60-something-year-old Arts Factory building. It belongs to its community. Downtown is as much a group of people as it is a location, and these people need this restaurant.
- Bar+Bistro at The Arts Factory
- 107 E. Charleston Blvd., Suite 155
- Monday-Friday 11 a.m.-3 p.m. and Tuesday-Saturday 5-10 p.m.
And the food has to be good. It can't be mediocre, like it was when Paymon's Mediterranean Cafe briefly ran the show last year. The cooking needs to be warm and affectionate, because that's what the artsy Downtown folk appreciate, and that's what brings the big-shot dealmakers away from less creative lunch spots. That's the way it was years ago as Tinoco's Bistro, before Mr. Tinoco moved over to Fremont Street.
It seems the love is back. Arts Factory owners Wes Isbutt and Debra Heiser have taken control of this charming dining room and recruited Chef Franco Spinelli to craft a menu of comfortable, fresh Italian-American dishes. It's a fine fit and it's catching on; lunch at Bar+Bistro during the week and you'll see city and county employees, Downtown developers and neighborhood regulars mixing and mingling and considering a glass of wine alongside a delicious chunk of grilled swordfish, served over roasted potatoes and peppers. There is outgoing service, a special menu for the First Friday arts event and all kinds of potential.
Everything I've tasted at Bar+Bistro has been simple and delightful, mostly light and occasionally hearty. Salads are large, and you can order half, but get the whole Niçoise. It has seared ahi tuna, sweet onions and a terrific herbed dressing. Individually sized pizzas are nicely crisp. Classic linguine with clams is rich with garlic. I also like the panino with almost-crispy chicken and sun-dried tomato pesto. Dinner, if you're the rarity who takes an evening meal Downtown, brings appetizers of prosciutto and melon or baked applewood sausage, and entrees of mixed seafood risotto or Steak Diane.
Bar+Bistro isn't starting or continuing a Downtown dining revolution. It's shoring up the neighborhood's food foundations and giving outsiders another reason to come down, another experience to share. That's what good food (and good art) will do.