It isn't often that I recommend a national chain restaurant, much less one in a department store. And I'll admit that the generic name doesn't inspire much confidence that Café Bistro is any more special than countless other corporate clones. Granted, too, the menu was designed by a corporate executive chef in Nordstrom's headquarters in distant Seattle.
But the food at this hidden gem, tucked away on the second floor of the Nordstrom at Southpoint mall, is anything but generic. Virtually everything is made from scratch, for starters, right down to the roasted beets and candied pecans on the cherry balsamic vinaigrette-dressed salad I enjoyed there recently. Salad greens and other produce is organic, and dairy products are hormone-free. Pizzas, with topping combinations ranging from wild mushroom and herbed ricotta to fennel sausage and cherry peppers, are expertly baked in a wood-fired oven.
Roast chicken with pommes frites, the most popular of the handful of entree specialties, features organic, free-range chicken. Sandwiches are served on breads baked by Guglhupf in Durham. The thin, rosy slices of sirloin on one of those sandwiches is trimmed and roasted in-house, then piled high with arugula, roma tomatoes, caramelized onions and garlic aioli on parmesan ciabatta. If you have time to linger over dessert, you can enjoy the restaurant's signature white chocolate bread pudding with a cup of organic coffee. The beans are roasted in Seattle, but, given Nordstrom's roots in the acknowledged capital of gourmet coffee, that's an easily overlooked sin.
The wait staff is more attentive and eager to please than you'll find in many locally owned restaurants. The understated earth tones of the dining room decor make Café Bistro a soothing alternative to the holiday bustle and cookie cutter fare of the food court.
But not today. According to general manager Terry Spigelmyer, Black Friday is by far the busiest day of the year at Café Bistro. Then again, if you're the sort who got up at the crack of dawn to catch today's sales, you might not mind standing in a line that snakes all the way out the restaurant to the top of the escalator.