Lily Bistro: “Food of the people”

Had the good fortune to attend a special luncheon at Rockland’s Lily Bistro today. Now before I start dishing, understand that this was a special meal with only five guests–it was a controlled set up and designed to impress. And that they did. I can’t guarantee that the general public will have the same attentive service, the same attention to detail, the same innovative pairings of familiar ingredients, but my gut tells me this one’s going to be a winner.

The new baby of chefs Bob Kajewski and Lynette Mosher (both most recently of Natalie’s, in Camden, but with distinguished culinary pedigrees) is promising enough to have earned mention in the current edition of Food Arts magazine. While it is a bistro, and they do have the background and are getting the notice, this isn’t a stuffy, food snob type of place. It’s open, welcoming and their goal is to keep it “simple, classic and focused. Food of the people is what we do,” Bob says.

Well, maybe if your people are foodies. But the fare is grounded in reality, using less-expensive cuts of meat and using “culinary alchemy” to turn them into gold. Consider the salad: chicory with a signature warm cassoulet dressing. It’s a salad turned into a comfort food, with a dressing of house-cured pork belly, duck confit and foie gras petals. It’s fabulous. Or the moules a la provencale, classic mussels in garlic, olive oil and white wine with an added and palate-pleasing kick, green olives. It’s in keeping with the tradition, Bob says. But, oh my. Mmmmmm.

And I didn’t even mention the tuna cooked and raw, pairing a tartare, topped with a homemade potato chip, with a barely cooked tuna wrapped in phyllo and complemented with a pea puree and carrots, or the starter plate of Hahn’s End Cheeses, the fresh French bread and the little, standard accompaniments: a mustard (violet mustard, made with a red wine reduction), cornichons, butter and a housemade terrine or pate. This is one place where you simply must save room for dessert, Lynette’s specialty. Presentation, while thoughtful, isn’t orchestrated or the work of a closet architect. Again, as Bob says, accessibility is their goal

At this point, he works the front of the house, while Lynette runs the kitchen. Both are passionate about food and their styles while different are complementary. The restaurant, they both say, has been in planning for years and years, and that shows in the attention to detail. I expect, with the division of labor and one out front and the other out back, that attention will continue.

Speaking of out front, prior to opening, they totally revamped the old Amalfi decor. Vibrant lime green and mirrors and an eye-catching light fixture from Prism glassworks set the tone upstairs; the downstairs wine cellar has a more intimate feel, with granite and brick walls and wall of wine. Another plus is a wine list where the most expensive bottle is $36, with most also available by the glass.

So, what’s the bottom line? Again, I need to revisit down the road, when been up and running for a few months and to do so incognito in order to honestly evaluate it, but I’m eager to return. And the pricing makes it easy. Lunch runs approximately $8 to $12 for entrees such as lobster risotto with fresh peas, goat cheese and pickled beet salad, french brie grilled cheese and simple roast chicken. Dinner entrees, $18 to $24, might include roasted pork rib chop, bacon-wrapped monkfish, pan-seared onglet with classic hollandaise, sole with sage brown butter or grilled veal sirloin. But the menu changes about every other day, reflecting what’s fresh and locally available.

If this is food of the people, I’m glad I’m human.

**NOTE: See my updated review here.

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12 Responses to “Lily Bistro: “Food of the people””

  1. Josh Amadee Says:

    I was not impressed by Lily Bistro, the food was mediocre and the atmosphere disappointing. Clearly the chef has no background in French cuisine and I wonder if he has ever been in France or a French restaurant for that matter. Advertising the restaurant as a country style French restaurant as one can find in Paris is far from what it really is; an American noisy and uncomfortable restaurant with dishes that are made from low quality ingredients. Understandable when you look at the prices on the menu, I guess for that kind of money you can’t expect to have quality on the table. Also the paste and service were far from excellent. It took the chef over an hour(!) to prepare our entrée and when it finally arrived at the table the food was cold. The server was friendly but not very knowledgeable and forgot to bring us bread. It is my understanding that the restaurant just opened and perhaps in a couple of months it will get better. After I left Lily Bistro I made myself a sandwich at home and decided that I will give them another chance in a couple of months

  2. Rebecca Roy Says:

    I disagree, my husband and I went to Lily Bistro this weekend. The restaurant is very cozy and reminded me of the small Bistro’s in Paris around the Louvre. I can assure you that none of them are quiet or comfortable and in many cases tables have to be pulled out so you can sit down. Unless if you are possiblely dinning at Tour L’Argent. It is in fact more spacious than Francine’s. We had a great meal. The server informed us that most of the vegetables were sourced from the Camden Farmer’s market and we found the eperience to have a great value for the price. This is certainly not haute cuisine, but Rustic down to the little pate that was served in the begining.

  3. hilarynangle Says:

    Rebecca, your experience is far closer to the one I had. And Josh, I hope you do give it another try, although don’t go expecting haute Parisian cuisine–this is bistro fare. As I mentioned previously, I plan on returning too, and will post my experiences then. In the meantime, since this the most visited posting on this young blog, I’d love it if others would share their experiences, too.

    Did you go? Tell us.

    H.

  4. Josh Amadee Says:

    I have to disagree. I lived for 5 years in Paris and it has nothing to do with French Cuisine at all. It is just simple bistro style food the American way. Not a problem when prepared well. Most restaurants in the area are going to the farmer’s market and also at the farmer’s market you have to pay for quality. I did go back by the way, only because I was invited and they are still not ready for prime time.

  5. hilarynangle Says:

    Fair enough. I hope it’s opening jitters. I won’t be able to return soon, but I will and when I do, I’ll repost my experience. I do hope others share theirs, too.

    Josh, what are your favorite restaurants in the area?

    H.

  6. Lynette Mosher Says:

    Josh,
    I am truly sorry that you have not had a good experience at the restaurant. In the first incident I wish that we had known that you were unhappy. On the second more specifics would be great so we can know how to improve. We welcome constructive feedback. I am sorry your assumption was that the chef was a male as well. Although I have been told being a woman in the kitchen is like working with a broken arm. We are purchasing from the farmer’s market in Camden and Rockland on Thursday and Saturday. In fact we went opening day in both towns. We are using Jess’s market for our fish and Kinnealy and Curtis’s for meats. I am sorry to hear that you find the food of poor quality. Currently, we are featuring cheese from Hahns End, After the Fall Farms for greens and Damariscotta mushroom for morrels and ramps this week. We don’t have a large payroll and an army of people or large copporate backing. We are trying to source as much as possible from local farms. Hope to see you at the farmers market you will see Bob and I early as we have to get the restaurant early for lunch.

  7. Josh Amadee Says:

    Hilarynangle,

    I have several favorites in the area including In good company, Primo, Francine’s and Natalie’s. In good company is great for an appetizer with a glass of wine. They have a wonderful selection by the glass and are reasonable priced. Primo is best at the bar, the restaurant part is somewhat unpleasant, especially after the expansion last year. I love to have a pasta dish, some fresh oysters or an appetizer at Primo. Since the expansion in my opinion the entrees on the menu are less good and often not very well executed. I had several times over seasoned food.
    Francine’s in Camden is a funky bistro and I would suggest that Lynette should have dinner there to have a better understanding what ‘bistro style’ cuisine is. It is a simple setting, almost uncomfortable and the service is not always great. I do think that Francine’s became too expensive. Natalie’s located at the Camden Harbor Inn is becoming my new favorite restaurant. I had the pleasure of dining at Natalie’s three weeks ago and I most say flawless. It is the only ‘truly’ fine dining restaurant in the area and together with Primo the only professional restaurant I have dined at so far.

    Lynette,
    I was told by your staff that Bob was in the kitchen the first night we dined at your restaurant. By the way we did make comments the first time, but your server was so busy solving other problems that we completely got forgotten. Normally I would not have reviewed after a first experience and most certainly not when a restaurant is still new. However in this case it is different and I will explain why: First of all are you advertising something that you are not- ‘a French Bistro’, calling your rabbit a lapin on the menu doesn’t make it French. Clearly you are not a French trained chef, so why call it French. Secondly I assume your PR agent or a good friend is posting on websites (like chow.com) how wonderful everything is, but in general the reviews on the same sites are not very promising and I say this in a polite way.
    Trying to gain sympathy by telling you are a small guy or girl with limited capital is not working for me. Most restaurants in the area started that way including In good company, Francine’s and Amalfi’s and they all did a better job when they opened up. The kept the expectations and prices low (your wines are way too expensive!) but also their menu limited in the beginning. I can tell that you want to make money badly and I understand, but as it is now you will loose big time. Perhaps not this summer, but most certainly when all the tourists are gone! We all want you to succeed and therefore I would suggest communicate what you really are and concentrate on service and food preparation. Before you tell everybody that you are visiting the farmers markets and how you are buying local products etc. Almost all the serious restaurants buy locally so that is not making you special. You are just trying to hard to be on the same level as Francine’s or In good company but that takes time. I wish you luck and I will be back coming winter and I hope to find a restaurant that is honest and focused on great food and service and less on PR.

  8. Lynsey Says:

    I ate lunch at Lily Bistro this week, and it was one of the most pleasant and delicious meals I have had in recent memory. The food and service were excellent. The cream of lentil soup was a wonderful surprise, and the cheddar and tomato tart was heavenly. The homemade crust (perfectly tender) was folded free form over a small mound of melted cheddar and small tomatoes that had been roasted/caramelized.

    Now for Josh’s reviews. First, I wish the owner of this blog would reverse the order of posts so that more recent posts appear at the top. That way Josh’s comments will hopefully disappear as more people eat at Lily Bistro and have what I’m sure will be wonderful meals. Second, I find Lily’s food to be completely French. My family has a home in Paris and we travel there frequently. French food is fresh, local, delicious ingredients prepared simply so that the flavors shine through. The food at Lily Bistro falls in line with what I have eaten at the best restaurants in France. One of my favorite restaurants in the South of France serves a tarte de tomate that is very similar to the one I had for lunch at Lily Bistro. A perfect tart and a salad of fresh greens with a good, simple vinaigrette – it doesn’t get any more French than that.

  9. Josh Amadee Says:

    Lynsey, let’s at the same time also change the order of chow.com and other blogs because not only I think they are doing a mediocre job more people were unhappy with their dinner/lunch at Lily’s. But great to hear that you are a happy guest. Second suggestion I have for you is to live in France before you think you are the expert on French food. I am a French native, grew up in the USA and when living in Paris worked for Tour d’Argent, a 3 Michelin star restaurant!

  10. Lemma Says:

    Somehow i missed the point. Probably lost in translation 🙂 Anyway … nice blog to visit.

    cheers, Lemma

  11. Digging for the Truth Says:

    Does anybody else find it interesting that Mr. Amadee recently posted a classified ad in the local newspaper looking for a Sous Chef??

    Interesting.

  12. Lily Bistro Says:

    We were very please to be included in Maine HOme and Design, our atmosphere may not be for everyone, but some really enjoy it.

    http://www.mainehomedesign.com/feast/996-where-gallery-meets-galley.html

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