Shab Row Bistro

American, French
$$$$ ($15-$24)
An inviting bistro and wine bar in the heart of Frederick.
Noon - 8 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday
11 a.m.-10 p.m. Friday - Saturday
11 a.m.-Midnight.
(Frederick County)

Editorial Review

Good to Go review

Shab Row Bistro's Lunch On the Go menu

By Martha Thomas

Wednesday, Aug. 3, 2011

It seems a shame to pass up a chance to eat lunch at Shab Row Bistro, the Frederick wine shop and restaurant with crisp white tablecloths, brushed-aluminum-clad menus and attentive service. But the establishment's new "lunch on the go" menu means that if you'd prefer to savor pasta with peppercorn air or a trio of beet variations back at the office, you are now welcome to do so.

The brief menu, designed for eating in or carrying out, is organized and priced for easy digestion: Drinks, starters and main courses can be mixed and matched, two for $10 and three for $15.

Admittedly, some options travel better than others. The peppercorn foam, warns chef Kevin Longmire, a former line cook at Volt, might last just five minutes, but its sharp flavor, even when deflated to flecks atop the house-made goat cheese ravioli, will survive. The starters, artfully composed on white plates in the restaurant, might not convey the same drama when packed into plastic boxes, but you probably won't mind. The cylinder of creamy tarragon-wrapped fleur verte cheese with roasted red beets and a dollop of onion marmalade will taste good even if it doesn't maintain its shape, and if the fresh, blanched English peas mingle with the carrot mousse in the "peas and carrots" salad, so be it. The bright crunch of green is a lovely complement to the light orange whipped cream.

Drinks include cinnamon-basil lemonade muddled to order, a choice of local Flying Dog beers and a glass of red or white wine.

Alcoholic drinks clearly stay on the premises, though there are some 450 bottles of wine and a fridge packed with beer in the retail shop at the back of the restaurant.

Portions are small: Pork confit - pulled pork without the smokiness - is piled in a crisp slider-size brioche bun from a nearby bakery. It's graced with a schmear of goat cheese and coarse Alsatian mustard and accompanied by a petite cup of micro-frites (twig-thin potatoes fried in duck fat, with sweet house-made ketchup).

Whether you order two, three or more components (each conveniently priced at $5), the courses are served all at once. The idea, Longmire says, "is to get people in and out in under a half-hour," fine dining's answer to fast food.

And the portion sizes accomplish two goals. "We can use expensive ingredients and keep the price point low," Longmire says. Plus, "we don't want people to have that food-coma effect in the middle of the day."

First Bite review

Tom Sietsema wrote about Shab Row Bistro for a November 2010 First Bite column.

The stroll from door to table at Shab Row Bistro, which takes its name from its neighborhood in Frederick, sets up expectations.

Enter through the rear entrance, and the first thing to catch the eye is a wine shop stocked with several hundred labels. The display segues to a zinc-topped bar lighted by handsome lamps, which flows into a 50-seat dining room made cozy with walls in soft yellow, dark red and eggplant. Jazz stirs the air; linens dress the tables (as do individual butter knives, a nice touch). If you drop by at lunch, as I did not long ago, light streams through the big front windows.

The scene is inviting.

The menu reads like a collection of French comforts (duck confit, bouillabaisse) with a few American crowd-pleasers thrown in. Hence, a meatloaf sandwich at lunch.

Michael King, one of three co-owners, calls the combination shop and restaurant "new for Frederick; a different idea." His partners in the business, which opened in late May, are Jack Clark, a former lobbyist for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in the District, and Clark's wife, Lindsay, an information technology director. King, who doubles as the chef here, comes to Shab Row Bistro from Finn & Porter in Alexandria, where he was general manager.

I'd like to report that his French onion soup is a role model, but the bowl's thin broth, minimal onions and cap of blond cheese distance themselves from the classic. Clam chowder has very few minced clams and too much underseasoned cream. Even sorrier is the cassoulet, which does a great imitation of a vegetarian casserole. We dig and dig and dig for any sign of meat and come up with just a morsel of shredded pork. The dish is mostly crumbs and beans, a fact we point out to our waiter, who takes the disappointment off the bill. As for the steak tartare, capers and minced onions do their best to give the cake of raw beef the boost it needs.

Yes, I'll have another splash of wine (thoughtfully available in two- and six-ounce pours).

The crab cake makes me smile. Served on a glossy, lightly toasted brioche bun, the centerpiece combines crab, seafood mousse and egg white. A pinch of fennel slaw is tucked inside the sandwich for texture, and a pail of warm golden french fries appears on the side. Cooked in duck fat, the potatoes make luscious companions to the crab cake: a meal that should keep better company.

November 21, 2010