I spend a fair amount of time in Europe, and recently enjoyed a meal in downtown Norfolk that would have satisfied me in any of that continent's trendy cities.
It came in the Chartreuse Bistro, a small restaurant tucked into the end of the Monticello Arcade that faces onto City Hall Avenue.
The bistro is owned and operated by the husband-and-wife team of Christopher Corrie, who serves as executive chef, and Karine Varga, who takes front-of-the-house duties. Their website claims inspiration from time spent in Europe. This definitely shows in the simple menu of starters, mains and desserts that change daily and are based upon local, organic and sustainable ingredients.
Those in the know hit the restaurant's Facebook page, where the day's offerings are posted.
The feeling inside Chartreuse is minimalist with a definite dose of the eclectic.
Floor-to-ceiling windows provide a view of the bustle of downtown and the Tide making its turn by the MacArthur Center. And the largely unadorned walls and sealed concrete floors give a very modern and hip vibe. Tables are a mix of office furniture, a dining room table, and old school desks set face to face. A comfy-looking sofa by the door serves as a place for coats.
The bistro seats about 30, and on the Tuesday night of our visit, it was filled with a slightly older crowd and many folks who seemed to know each other, or at least share a love of great food. That evening we ran into two friends sitting there chatting away with the chef while enjoying drinks and selections from the first-course portion of the menu.
I found the space a bit cold at first. The heat was not fully on, and the combination of concrete floors and a seat by the large glass windows made me happy I had brought a sport coat. One of our waiters noted the issue and soon the place was warmed with heat and strains of guitar jazz.
For our first course we enjoyed sauteed beef hearts over arugula salad ($10) and fried squid with jalapeno gastrique ($10). Thinly sliced, marinated with a bit of heat, and grilled on a skewer, the beef played nicely with the lightly dressed and somewhat peppery arugula and roasted yellow pepper. The squid were lightly dusted in cornmeal, perfectly fried and served with baby arugula. The jalapeno gastrique provided a unique, hot and tasty dipping sauce.
A paprika-crusted flounder ($23) was accompanied by fried gnocchi and collards. I particularly enjoyed biting into the fried gnocchi and being surprised at the pillow-like insides.
Our second main was the equal of the first. The Frenched Berkshire pork chop ($22) was slightly crispy on the outside, but not overdone. The accompanying butternut squash was excellent, and I particularly loved the mix of the savory bread with pork and pink peppercorn pan gravy.
Based upon a friend's recommendation, we asked for a chocolate torte for dessert. It was not on the dinner menu, but there was a piece still available from that day's lunch. It was a delightfully thick chocolate preparation drizzled with creme anglais, adorned with slightly salty walnuts and mint chiffonade, and then topped with whipped cream possessing a slight marshmallow texture and sweetness.
From the food to the mood, Chartreuse Bistro is a fantastic addition to the area. The small space with the huge flavors is well worth the trip from wherever you live.
Jerry Cronin, email@example.com
Chartreuse Bistro, 205 E. City Hall Ave., Norfolk
Fine dining in a friendly, casual and eclectic urban atmosphere
The menu changes daily, but try anything, it's that good.
if you go
Menu Varies daily
Hours 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and 4 p.m. to 11 p.m. Mondays through Fridays, 5 to 11 p.m. Saturdays, closed Sundays
Cost Lunch $5 to $13; dinner: first course $5 to $10, main course $17 to $24; dessert $7 to $8
Parking Street and public garage
Child friendly? High chairs available