CHURCH & STATE BISTRO
POSH BITES IN SEEDY DOWNTOWN
Sometimes the most buzzed about restaurants never seem to live up to the hype. Downtown’s Church & State Bistro has been all the rage since it opened but I feared pomp or pretension would lead to disappointment. I’m glad to say that was not the case.
Trekking to the dregs of downtown, this hipster café, which some have likened to a SoHo or even Paris vibe on Industrial Street, is found in one really sketchy neighborhood. While the actual block has been developed and has a cool, artsy feel, is you opt not to park in the secure lot across the street, you may be taking your life in your own hands. I did, however, park two blocks away, climbed over the homeless man passed out on the sidewalk, and took comfort that I parked in front of a sweet Mercedes, so hopefully anyone looking to steal a car would choose the nicer ride.
Inside, the energy really buzzes as the restaurant was already packed for a Tuesday night dinner. The lively atmosphere sets the mood and starting off with a handcrafted cocktail is a must. The Receiving Ends of Sirens, made with Evan Williams Bourbon, Allspice Dram, Dolin Rouge and Fernet Branca, served up, was highly recommended after my server asked me a few questions about my drinking preferences. This was a solid drink.
We started our meal with the oysters and ordered half a dozen of the Huîtres Glacées, iced evening cove and Coromandel oysters. Oysters are a specialty of the house and really are a must-have item. While half a dozen will cost you $19 and a full dozen $36, they are pricey but if you don’t go crazy ordering the rest of your meal, they will prove worth it.
The Moules Marinieres, PEI mussels served with Cinzano vermouth, French Fries and aioli, are also highly recommended. This is a very nice dish and is perfect for sharing. At $18 it’s a great starter item to split with someone.
Looking to order outside the box, we went with the Ris de Veau, sautéed sweetbreads, prepared with orange segments, sautéed fennel, toasted pistachio and fennel salt. In case you don’t know, this is the thymus (throat, gullet, or neck sweetbread) or sometimes the pancreas (think heart, stomach, or belly sweetbread) of a calf. Daring to some, delish nonetheless. The Bone Marrow is a popular dish here but that’s becoming commonplace around town and no one makes it better than mom so the sweetbreads seemed to be the way to go.
Another perfect dish to share is the Tarte aux Figues, black mission figs, goat’s cheese, watercress, pine nuts, caramelized onions, cave aged gruyere, and emmentaler. This is another big dish that screams “share”—a great deal at $17. It’s light and sweet and extremely tasty.
Looking for a second cocktail, I went with the popular Hemmingway, made with Matusalem Platino Rum, Luxardo maraschino, lime and grapefruit, served up. This was a solid, stiff drink. I didn’t find the Church & State cocktails to be stellar, and maybe I should have gone with wine, but they went well with the ambiance.
Our main entrée to share was the Tagliatelle aux Champignons, house made tagliatelle (a traditional pasta), chanterelle mushrooms, celery, mushroom cream sauce and shaved Parmesan. This was an extremely flavorful, hearty and rich dish. Again, if you spilt this order, then it’s $18 price is perfect, considering it’s a very generous portion. I found the Choux de Bruxelles, roasted baby Brussels, carrots, bacon and thyme, disappointing. Everyone seems to be doing Brussel sprouts these days and this plate didn’t offer anything different or extraordinary.
If you have room for dessert, we didn’t, but we did order to-go, the Tartes du Jour, especially the Chocolate & Salted Caramel tart is out of this world. It’s decadent and deadly to any diet but it is so sinfully delicious. Again, it order to feel less shame and guilt, share this one with as many people as possible, as each over-the-top chocolaty bite is another notch up on your belt but so worth it if you promise to run an extra 30 minutes on the treadmill.
Church & State Bistro is located at 1850 Industrial Street in downtown. Weekday lunch from 11:30am to 2:30pm; Dinner Monday – Thursday 6pm to 10pm; Friday and Saturday until 11pm; Sunday from 5:30pm to 9pm. "Church on Sunday" 5-course Prix Fixe menu is available for $39. Call 213-405-1434.