The downstaters were on their way back home as we turned onto quiet Church Street in Lenox, Massachusetts, one Sunday evening in early spring.
The gray clapboard building with white trim and bright blue sign “bistro zinc” signaled us.
Bistro Zinc had received high praise from dinner guest Rob, who had visited several times.
Our server, Ulyana, led us to the dining room of 20 tables awash with the slanted light of late afternoon. Our drink order taken, we settled in with the menu.
“Zinc?” I asked Ulyana.
“The bar is covered with zinc,” she explained.
WHERE: 56 Church St., Lenox, Mass. (413) 637-8800, www.bistrozinc.com
WHEN: 11:30 a.m.-3 p.m. and 5:30-10 p.m. daily, reservations suggested for dinner
HOW MUCH: $87.50 before alcohol, tax and tip
MORE INFO: Parking lot in rear. All major credit cards accepted. Accessible.
I inadvertently looked at the silvery ceiling. “Perforated tin,” she said, reading my mind.
We were served a warm baguette wrapped in paper accompanied by a small container of whipped butter.
From moules frites ($14, Belgian fish and chips) to cheese and charcuterie ($18) and duck confit rolls with hoisin sauce and sweet chili ($11), the short list of appetizers covered a lot of ground (and sea).
The pork wontons ($11) we shared were tongue-burning hot. The thin wrappers were fried crisp but not greasy and the soy sesame dipping sauce was not overly salty. The morsels of melt-in-your-mouth ground pork within their crackly pillows hardly required adornment.
Along with the French onion soup gratinee ($8), the chef was serving carrot soup ($8). Its vibrant orange color masked its lackluster taste. Puréed nearly back to its solid state, the soup might have benefitted from a splash of cream or broth or seasoning.
The Boston bibb lettuce salad ($9) was an edible vision of spring. The single boat-like leaves carried a cargo of fresh herbs and red wine vinaigrette, and were topped with a Parmesan crisp sail.
Rob’s recent drift toward less meat lead him to the only vegetarian entrée on the menu: Wild Mushroom Polenta, with tomato chive sauce ($22). Striking contrasts of green chive sauce and creamy yellow polenta, studded with brown buttons of wild mushrooms, the polenta was topped with nest of sautéed greens. Rob said the mushrooms were “seared perfectly to bring out their nuttiness.” Despite its name, he detected no evidence of tomatoes in the sauce.
I make coq au vin and was eager to sample Chef Quintavious Walls’ interpretation of the classic French dish. The half a free-range chicken, with mushrooms, carrots, smoked bacon, served with potato purée ($24) was straightforward enough. The difference was the sauce: a glossy, intensely flavored red wine reduction put Chef Walls’ version miles above mine.
I chose the vanilla bean crème brulee ($8) from the half dozen desserts listed on a separate menu: profiteroles ($9), butterscotch budino (Italian pudding, $8), tarte tatin (upside-down tart with caramelized fruit, $8) with vanilla ice cream.
Crème brulee needs no garnish, but the tiny cairn of tart baby blueberries on one side of the glassy brown surface were a perfect foil for the burnt sugar sweetness.
Ulyana delivered a pair of unexpected sandwich-style peanut butter cookies.
Rob enjoyed his cookie on the spot. I took mine home and discovered it had cloned itself in its little brown box somewhere between Lenox and Schenectady. I enjoyed them both at bedtime.
Like Rob, I’ll return often to Zinc — an elegant restaurant which offers its own slant on the French classics.