Bringing the East to the West at Bistro 31

November 17, 2011 by · Comments Off 

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.

North Dallas Residents Say Proposed Alcohol Sales An Economic Boon For City

October 22, 2010 by · 2 Comments 

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By Lisa McKeague
lmckeague@smu.edu

Preston Hollow resident Kris Cousins doesn’t shop at the grocery stores near her home. Instead, she drives nearly 15 minutes out of the way so she can pick up beer and wine along with other necessities, like bread and milk.

“I go all the way to Lovers Lane so I can get everything I need rather than making a bunch of trips to separate stores,” she said.

Living in a dry neighborhood, beginning north of Walnut Hill Lane and up to Interstate 635, Cousins says she and her neighbors will vote on Nov. 2 to approve measures making eating out and purchasing beer and wine less of a hassle.

Dallas residents will vote on two ballot measures allowing alcohol sales in dry neighborhoods. Many people living in the high-income enclaves of Preston Hollow and other North Dallas neighborhoods appear eager for the measures to pass. One measure would allow grocery and convenience stores citywide to sell beer and wine. The other would eliminate the “private club” requirement, allowing restaurants that have liquor licenses to sell drinks without issuing memberships. Liquor stores and bars would still be illegal in those areas.

Toni Stephenson, restaurant manager at Penne Pomodoro in the Preston Forest Shopping Center, says the club requirement is a big hassle for the restaurant.

“It takes away from waiting tables. Servers have to take customers’ drivers’ licenses away from the table before ordering a drink and most people don’t feel comfortable doing that,” she said.

At the end of the week, if servers cannot match every drink order to a signed club receipt, “the server can be fined up to $500 and the restaurant potentially audited,” she said.

Stephenson has been with Penne Pomodoro for almost eight years and calls the club system “unbelievable.”

Cousins is also looking forward to eliminating the club card system. She thinks restaurants following the rules possibly lose business because residents will chose to eat at restaurants that don’t ask for the club card. Older restaurants are less likely to ask for a driver’s license then newer ones, she says, making residents less willing to go those restaurants.

“One restaurant will follow the rules and one won’t,” she said. “One will ask you for your driver’s license and one restaurant will serve you without even asking for it.”

Advocates for the ballot argue that eliminating the wet/dry overlay will bring in more tax dollars for the entire city. Grocery stores in North Dallas could see an increase in sales if residents could buy their beer and wine in the neighborhood.

Susan Aldas, store director at Tom Thumb in Preston Royal Village, says the store could really benefit if the ballot is passed.

“Most people in the area want us to serve beer and wine,” Aldas said. “Not only will it probably increase our sales but it will be more convenient for our customers.”

Residents in other dry neighborhoods say beer and wine sales could draw more crime and pollution. Others, though, say the sales won’t increase crime, but will instead bring in money to the North Dallas/Preston Hollow area.

Preston Hollow resident David Davidson works in commercial real estate and has lived in both a wet and a dry area. He believes the biggest advantage of the ballot passing is the millions of potential dollars in sales tax revenue and the thousands of jobs that alcohol sales could bring to the area.

North Dallas resident Harry Granoff, who worked in motel management for 30 years, agrees that the sales tax revenue could be a boon for the city. Now, he said, some people may drive to Plano or other “wet” suburbs to buy beer and wine, giving those cities the tax dollars.

“I will vote yes because of the property, sales and alcohol tax revenue that Dallas needs to improve the safety and quality of life of its residents,” Granoff said.

Helen Brock, 22, also a Preston Hollow resident, is eager for the ballot to pass and eliminate the private club system. Since turning the legal drinking age last year, she has never been asked to sign up for the private club at restaurants.

Nina Flournoy, a senior lecturer at SMU, has lived in the North Dallas area for more than 23 years. She says the greater issue is not grocery stores selling beer or wine, but the prospect of liquor stores or bars in the area that don’t serve food and are not family oriented. Under the ballot measures, bars and package stores would still not be allowed in currently dry neighborhoods.

“Zoning is zoning,” Flournoy said. “As long as they keep that intact, selling beer and wine at grocery stores won’t change the nature of the neighborhood.”