August Bistro & Bar officially opened on May 21, promising an emphasis on local meat and produce, fresh seafood and French technique. ¶ So expectations have been high for this new space on Main Street in Hamburg, formerly occupied by O’Brien’s Farm Fresh Meats & Smokehouse. There’s not much more than old French food posters for decorations right now, but the range of the menu and poise of the service staff sets a quietly classy tone. ¶ We were seated at a table with a black tablecloth, no salt or pepper shakers and an unlit candle. The chairs were the relaxing kind. The server put bread onto our plate and followed with a generous pour of extra virgin olive oil that soaked the bread. I ate it, but then again I’ll down a spoonful of good olive oil straight. That’s my only quibble about the first phase of our meal.
As a group, the appetizers were outstanding. Cat and our guests faced hard choices picking starters: oysters ($2.50 each) with a side of house-made crepinette sausage ($6), Wellfleet clams roasted with chiles and Serrano ham ($12), “fluke crudo with charred red onion-shiso salsa, squid ink anchiode” ($12).
We said yes to the oysters and sausage, the clams and ham, plus an arugula salad with warm pancetta vinaigrette and a blue cheese-stuffed roasted fig ($9), house-made pork paté with pickles and mustard, and a seafood sausage with house-made piccalilli relish ($9).
There wasn’t a dud in the bunch. The oysters were fresh and briny, and the crepinette sausage, browned in caul fat, was scrumptious. The stuffed roasted fig was the best I can remember, a two-bite cheese course, though some found the pancetta vinaigrette verging on overly acidic.
The pork paté, including some smoked meat, dissolved to its components as the gelatin melted in my mouth. Chile heat undercut the richness of ham in the Wellfleets, and no clam went unclaimed. The seafood sausage was light and herb-flecked, with the sweet bell pepper relish underneath playing a summery counterpoint.
In a half-full restaurant we had a 40-minute gap between clearing appetizers and the entree arrival, which didn’t bother us, because we were talking.
For mains, I chose the Serrano-crusted hake over octopus stew ($24), and Cat asked for ramp ravioli in Serrano broth with spring peas ($19). Our guests got the Kurobuta pork belly and loin with Brussels sprouts ($21) and the bavette steak over oxtail marmalade with fries and creamed spinach (at $26, the reasonably priced menu’s most expensive dish).
My hake was a pleasure, moist fish wearing a crunchy crumb tocque atop an intriguing stew of firm chickpeas, broth and tender chopped octopus tentacles. The pairing of beans and fish was oddly satisfying.
The steak’s brawny flavor was heightened by the concentrated, sweetly beefy flavor of its oxtail partner. The fries were decent.
Ramp ravioli was another winner, a beautifully composed dish of pasta pillows stuffed with oniony greens, bathed in a salty, smoky broth. Fresh peas and tender pea fronds adorned the bowl, and we would have welcomed a few more.
The roasted Brussels sprouts on the pork entree were terrific. The pork belly was too stiff on top and too soft in the middle, so when we tried to cut a piece it squished fillings like a s’more. The loin was unevenly cooked, well done at one edge and rare at the middle.
I enjoy a little pink in good pork, but this was rosy, and the person who ordered it said nope. Our server noticed her unhappiness, took the dish off the bill, and comped coffee.
Desserts ($6) were delicious as a group but had small disappointments, mainly technical. A savory number, rosemary olive oil cake with blueberries and lemon sherbet, disappeared without a trace. Fresh strawberries with strawberry ice cream and thyme shortbread was also delicious, even with a few ice crystals in the ice cream.
The cheesecake was dense where it should have been creamy, reminding us of cream cheese. Its pineapple salsa was delightful.
Vanilla panna cotta was tasty, but stiff, with no jiggle. The soft cookie perched atop it fell apart before it reached us. Its rhubarb compote was an intoxicating balance of sweet and sour; what I would have done for a few teaspoons more.
Order coffee and the server brings chunks of brown and white sugar as sweeteners.
August Bistro has already sketched a blueprint for a remarkable dining experience, showing thoughtful depth and skilled technique in most of the dishes we tried during our visit.
As it heads into its second full month of operation and goes through normal growth stages, diners have plenty of reasons to expect excellent meals to come.
August Bistro & Bar ◄
Ambitious menu, focus on fresh seafood makes fine start.
WHERE: 32 Main St., Hamburg (649-3200, www.augustbistrobar.com)
HOURS: 5 to 10 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 5 to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Closed Sunday.
PRICE RANGE: Appetizers, $8-$12; entrees, $15-$26.
WHEELCHAIR ACCESS: Yes.