Lily’s Bistro new kid on the Oregon block
By: Avery King
Lily’s Bistro opened in late spring of 2013 and has established a name for itself in the upscale dining community. Located at the western end of the Oregon District, the restaurant occupies the former Café Boulevard space. Owners Bob and Lisa Mendenhall, who also own Blind Bob’s in the Oregon District, describe the restaurant on its website as “seasonally focused [and] casual/upscale.”
My friend and I visited the establishment early on a Friday evening and were immediately greeted by a friendly hostess who offered us seating in either the main dining room or the bar area. The dining room is large and white with contrasting black trim. Maybe it was because only a few of the tables were full, but the room felt a bit stark. We opted for the bar seating, which, with its rich blue walls and vibrant atmosphere, felt more comfortable.
Sean, our server, was prompt and knowledgeable, helping us to navigate the drink menus and listing the day’s specials. We were eager to try the cocktails; Lily’s has a reputation for engaging drinks. My dining companion had the Lily’s Mule, a take on the Moscow Mule. A traditional Moscow Mule, credited with making vodka popular in the United States, consists of vodka, lime juice and ginger ale. The Lily’s version, served in the requisite metal cup, swaps ginger beer for ginger ale and supplements ginger liqueur and whiskey bitters. I ordered the Gingerbread Dark N’ Stormy, another Lily’s twist on a standard cocktail. The restaurant augments the traditional recipe with a fall syrup – a simple syrup spiced with traditional fall flavors like ginger, cinnamon and nutmeg. Both of the cocktails were balanced, bright and interesting.
For appetizers, we ordered the Italian braised meatballs with marinara and the charcuterie plate. The meatballs came three to a dish and are hearty, but not oversized. The meatballs are lightly seasoned, dusted with shredded Parmesan and melt in your mouth, but the real star of the dish was the sauce. The marinara is vivid and bright, punctuated with flecks of black pepper and vegetables. It was balanced – a delicate interplay between sweet and acidic.
Salami and chicken liver mousse graced the charcuterie plate. Approximately six thin slices of salami accompany a generous serving of the chicken liver mousse. Pickled okra, cauliflower and mushrooms divide the platter, layered over thin slices of crisp golden beets. An ample serving of crostini and creole mustard finish the spread. The mousse was rich and decadent, whipped and creamy, and went well spread over the sliced bread with a slash of mustard. The salami was a nice blend of savory and fatty, but it didn’t stand out as well as the other pieces of the dish. The pickled vegetables, in particular the okra and the golden beets, were the real surprise. They were tender crisp with a perfect vinegar bite.
For entrées, we bypassed the daily specials and ordered the Lily’s surf n’ turf and the cider-glazed pork chop. Lily’s chef played with the idea of traditional surf and turf, blending Midwestern comfort food flavors into the classic dish. The surf was a grilled ahi tuna, rare in the center; the turf was the more surprising of the two ingredients: kielbasa sausage. The meats were served on a bed of roasted garlic mashed potatoes and fresh mustard greens with creole mustard cream sauce. The mashed potatoes were rich, creamy and had a genuine homemade taste. The greens were fresh and the creole mustard was pleasantly subtle. Overall, it was a “stick to your ribs” kind of dish full of satisfying, rustic goodness.
The pork chop was a large, grilled bone-in chop, served with piles of braised red cabbage and roasted apples. The chop’s cider glaze was a bit too faint, but despite the relatively mild seasoning, the chop was well cooked, tender and paired well with the accompaniments. The red cabbage added a sour tang and the roasted apples – a cold weather favorite of this writer – added a robust sweetness to the dish. The plate erred a bit on the sweet side and could have benefited with a bit more contrast from cracked black pepper or slightly more char on the chops, but overall was very satisfying and the components meshed well. Dipping the house bread into the tangy cabbage sauce rounded out the flavor profile nicely.
We finished the meal with a cup of coffee and a slice of pumpkin cheesecake. Unfortunately, Lily’s does not have an espresso machine, but the drip coffee was a decent substitution. True to its name, the cheesecake was rich with pumpkin and fall spice flavor, fooling one into thinking he or she was eating pumpkin pie. Overall, it was an enjoyable outing with friendly service, a lively atmosphere and well-balanced dishes at a reasonable price point.
Lily’s Bistro is located at 329 E. Fifth St. in the Oregon District. For additional information, please call 937.723.7637 or visit lilysbistro.com.