Posted by: wrmcnutt | December 2, 2009

Restaurant Review – Bistro By the Tracks, Knoxville TN

I’ve been a bit remiss.  For some reason I’ve not told you about one of my favorite restaurants in Knoxville, the Bistro By the Tracks.

The Bistro is Knoxville’s effort at fine dining in a casual atmosphere.  They have a menu, and price list, that’s similar to the Orangery, but in a more casual environment.  One of the things that I’d better start out with is that you won’t find tracks any where near the current incarnation of the Bistro.  The name was coined two moves ago, in the original location, where they were, indeed, located by the railroad tracks.  Currently, the Bistro By the Tracks can be a little hard to find.  Brookview Center Way is new construction, and has not as yet made its way into Googlemaps or Mapquest.  The best I can do for you is to tell you to take the Papermill Drive Exit off I-40 and head down Northshore toward Kingston Pike.  Brookview Center is on the right before you get to Kingston Pike.  I’d give them a call for more complete directions.

In any case, I’ve always found the Bistro to provide excellent fare and good service, regardless of the location.

Once you’ve found the Bistro – you enter through a single panel glass door and immediately are dumped out into the bar and lounge area.  I find that, for a bar and lounge, it’s a little over-lit.  I like my watering holes to be a little more intimate.  For a foyer, though, it’s about right.  I’ve never failed to be immediately greeted by the staff and asked if I would like a table right away.  The lounge has a few comfy chairs and low tables, or traditional bar-stool seating, but by the time I get to dinner, I’m generally ready to order food, so it’s always straight to the table for me.  Speaking of tables, the new facility is a bit of a step up in terms of seating.  I always felt that the old venue tried to put too many tables in the available space.  The new location has a few more tables, but a notably larger floor plan.  On the whole, there’s little crowding, and you aren’t treated to the conversations at adjacent tables.  The last thing I need over dinner is the details of my neighbors gall-bladder operation.  The overall decor is neutral tones that mesh well with the modern table and chair designs, all in hardwood.  The chief accessory in the decorating scheme is unopened wine bottles.  The new trend in wine storage/decor for contemporary restaurants is to store the entire wine cellar in the dining room.   I’ve got my reservations about such an approach, but I can’t say that the atmosphere was poor.  The lighting is at about the right level and they feature a glass-walled back room.  The back room is normally open to general seating, but is available for private dining for the right price.  One problem, though, is that the architect failed to properly account for conversation noise in the design.  The high ceiling with the post-industrial exposed pipes and duct work bounces conversations around ad infinitum.  The end result is that the dining room sounds like a high school cafeteria.  I’ve spoken to the manager, and he’s promised me that they are aware of the problem and it will be resolved “soon.”

As has always been my experience in the past, the staff at the Bistro have been immaculate, knowledgeable, and prompt, without being intrusive.  There are several waiter on the staff who make excellent efforts to build personal relationships with customers, and are quite friendly.  Being greeted by name and having the staff remember my favorites is a bit of a treat for a middle class diner like myself.  I get a kick out of the celebrity treatment.

The menu has been updated with the move to the new digs, and while I will miss some of my favorites, I was ready to see some changes.  I started with the lobster corndogs and apple mustard dipping sauce.  Regular readers know that I am not a big fan of seafood, but these corndogs are good. They are not greasy and are rich and flavorful.  The apple mustard is sweeter than my taste generally calls for, but then, I’m know for liking mustard the bites back.  The apple mustard had a complex, delicately nuanced set of flavors that would have been overwhelmed by my normal approach to condiments.  My companion pronounced the calamari as tender and tasty.  Calamari is often a challenge to cooks and chefs alike.  There is a magic moment for it when it is no longer raw, but not overdone, and it’s got to be taken off right then. He who hesitates gets breaded, fried rubber.  And the calamari at the Bistro was definitely not rubber.

The field green salad was fresh, crisp, and flavorful, with a mixture of lettuce and bitter herbs.  The sherry vinaigrette was tart and complex, and the Benton’s bacon was wonderful.  And not overdone, as so often happens to bacon destined for salads. There is a difference between “crisp” and “burnt,” and the kitchen staff at the Bistro appears to know exactly what it is.  For my entree I had the Bistro chicken.  This is a pan-roasted chicken breast stuffed with goat cheese, pan roasted wild mushrooms, onions, dried plums, parmesan polenta, sauteed spinach, and toasted hazelnuts.  The chicken breast was large, tender, and juicy without being greasy.  The chef had been generous with both the coat cheese for the stuffing and the parmesan when preparing the polenta, leading to a very moist, rich stuffing.  The wild mushrooms provided an earthy tang and the toasted hazelnuts an almost smoky finish.  My companion had the Pan seared sea scallops, and pronounced them wonderful.  Some restaurants are willing to try to pass off pieces of whitefish cut with cookie cutters as scallops, but that was certainly not the case here.  The truffle creamed corn was rich and tasty, with the truffle oil supplying a musky finish.    The sauteed carrots were a sweet counterpoint to the bitter of the spinach, and she ate the pickled onions.  No comments there, except that those are normally handed off to me.

No dessert tonight – both time and expanding waistlines have conspired against it.  The coffee was rich and without bitterness, though, and from French presses. One for regular, one for decaff.  I’m already over-count, but but I would be remiss if I didn’t at least mention that the cellar at the Bistro has around a hundred vintages, providing a nice selection, regardless of your dining budget.

Time to Sum Up.  I give the Bistro By The Tracks

Two and a half pints of five for atmosphere.  Hopefully they will resolve the noise issue soon.
Four pints of five for cuisine.
Four pints of five for service

This gives the Bistro an overall rating of 3.5 pints

As to cost, dinner at the Bistro is not cheap.  I give the Bistro: $$$$.  Although if you’re not drinking, you can escape for $$$.

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  1. sounds yummy.
    a request – please consider linking to your definitions of the $$$$ symbols. I cant’ recall your scale off the top of my head.

    • I thought about that, but it’s really easier just to think of it this way:
      $: El Cheapo rides again
      $$: Reasonable
      $$$: Pricey
      $$$$: Ouch!
      $$$$$: Ho-lee skunksweat, that’s a ridiculous amount of money to spend on a meal!

  2. I’ve found that lighting and sound control make a surprising difference in the enjoyment of a meal. Even a superb offering can be reduced to “mere food” if you feel like you’re being held for interrogation, or worried about cutting the table cloth because you can’t see where the plate is (I problem Susan & I always had at the Copper Cellar). And noise, well I’m not a fan of listening to the conversation 3 tables over, or crashing plates, etc. And ambiance music? Please! It seems the trend in too many places is to play it to loud and to play singalong tunes….

    • Yeah – mind you, ah don’t mind me some sing-along tunes in a good pub. But that’s not what I’m after in a good upscale dining establishment.

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