Bringing the East to the West at Bistro 31

November 17, 2011  

BEYOND THE BUBBLE

By Victoria Ahmadi
vhmadi@smu.edu

Bistro 31 in Highland Park Village. (Photo by Victoria Ahmadi/Beyond the Bubble staff)


European design, French tableware and Mediterranean decor fit side by side at Bistro 31. The restaurant opened its doors in the historic Highland Park Village on Oct. 3.

Alberto Lombardi is at it again. The restaurant tycoon owns and operates a handful of the city’s top eateries, including Penne Pomodoro, Taverna, Café Toulouse, Sangria Tapas y Bar, Romagna Mia, Cibus and La Fiorentina.

Lombardi chose the prestigious location for his newest venture because he says it is simply the best around town. He brought his vision to life in the heart of the Highland Park Village shopping center built in 1931.

“It feels like Europe and has a certain brightness,” Lombardi said. The restaurant exudes elegance and class while embracing a casual menu.

Lombardi enlisted the help of interior designer Ron Guest, whom he has worked with on numerous projects, including his restaurant business and his home.
“We went to Italy, New York and Paris to get a sense of what I wanted for Bistro 31,” he said.

Mike Hiller, award-winning restaurant critic and editor of Escape Hatch Dallas described his experience at the new restaurant in an interview:

“Bistro 31 feels perfectly suited for its Highland Park Village location: swanky digs with a spacious patio, attentive service, and a menu that feels familiar yet vaguely exotic ‘didn’t we have waffles like these in Brussels last year, Charles?’”

Sixty-three year old Alberto Lombardi of Forli Italy says that he knew what he wanted to do from a very young age. He attended The Hotel Palace hospitality school in Rimini, Italy.

“When I was 13-years-old I left Italy for Berlin and since then have traveled all over including Miami, San Francisco and Dallas,” he said.

The restaurateur made Dallas his home by accident nearly 35 years ago. Lombardi traveled to the lone star state to visit a friend and ended up never leaving. He began his work at The Pyramid Room of The Fairmont Hotel where he later served as Manager of the Fairmont’s Venetian Room.

He is married to Vivian Escobar Lombardi and the two have a 7-year-old son Luca. Lombardi also has three daughters from his first marriage, Sara Lombardi, Anna Lombardi Daigle and Laura McDonnell.

It is no secret that the restaurant business is a tricky one considering that local eateries come and go like the seasons. With a handful of restaurants under his belt, Lombardi is no stranger to the industry’s fluctuations. What keeps him afloat?

“I always say to do whatever you love, be persistent,” he said. ”Sometimes you fail but keep trying.”

Lombardi began working in restaurants as a young boy and found the flexibility factor most appealing about the business. “I loved working in restaurants because I was able to travel,” Lombardi said.

“You can pick up and move anywhere in the world and find a job the next day at a restaurant.”

Eric Brandt is the king in the kitchen at Bistro 31 and has earned notoriety for his culinary creations at Rosewood Mansion and the Ritz Carlton. Brandt was with the Ritz-Carlton in Washington D.C. when celebrity chef Dean Fearing called asking him to join the Mansion team. He took the opportunity and headed down south.

He worked closely under Chef Fearing for a year until Fearing ventured off to open Fearing’s at the Ritz-Carlton Dallas. During the search for his replacement, Brandt ran the kitchen with an iron fist and continued to deliver Fearing’s southwestern favorites.

Some of Brandt’s Bistro 31 highlights include tuna tartare, rock shrimp cocktail, escargot paired with pork belly, Kobe beef hamburger and handmade pastas.

First-time customer Hubert Peek, 69, of Irving said that it’s the ambiance that sets this place apart from others.

“The outdoor space reminded me of the sidewalk café’s in Italy and the bread was different than any I’ve ever had,” said Peek. “It was warm and crunchy with a soft buttery center, but then again I like bread.”

General Manager Hans Raina said that Bistro 31 is unlike any other restaurant in the area. While the eatery has only been open for just a few weeks, Raina says that he is eager to see people’s response to it.

He also said that expansion plans are already in the works. The new Lombardi establishment will feature a second story with a full bar and floor to ceiling windows offering a unique view of the Village.

As general manager, Raina says that he is excited about working with a new clientele. His managing career has consisted of some of the city’s top eateries including Five Sixty by Wolfgang Puck and The Blue Fish in North Dallas.

Raina spoke admiringly of Alberto Lombardi, calling him a “ very well-respected man in town.”

“We get people in here who have been eating at Lombardi’s restaurants for over 20 years, it says a lot about a man to have such loyal clients in a town where there’s so many options,” he said.

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