Cafe Bistro at Nordstrom

From shoe-shopping to problematic ordering to reasonably good refueling

Mediterranean Chicken Pizza
Mediterranean Chicken Pizza (Photo By John Anderson)

Cafe Bistro at Nordstrom

Barton Creek Square Mall, Loop 360 & MoPac, 691-3500

Monday-Saturday, 10am-8pm; Sunday, noon-5pm

One thing that Nordstrom is known for is shoes: particularly women's shoes. When you enter the store from the west side, fully one-fourth of the ground floor is the women's shoe department. The last time we visited, there must have been 300 women milling around the department trying the patience of the salespeople, with mountains of shoe boxes piled up hither and yon. We're told this builds up an appetite, and fortunately for the shoppers, Cafe Bistro is waiting upstairs when they need refueling.

The restaurant is stylish, modern, and finished in geometric patterns of earth tones, with large, high windows on one side. The waiters (Sarah and Louis we loved; the others, not so much) are stylishly clad in chef's coats. The ordering system is problematic: You must place your order at a counter when you arrive, not at the table after you sit, and even though you might have been promised otherwise, everything you order arrives at once. What they don't tell you is that you can also order from the table, from the waitperson, one course at a time, just like in a real restaurant.

The menu is classic but creative "ladies who lunch" fare, with soups, salads, sandwiches, pastas, and a few heartier entrées. We began our meal with their Bistro Crab Soup ($5.50), finding it creamy, rich, and slightly tart, done in bisque style, served with a crisp Parmesan toast. We would have preferred more crab and vegetables. The Shrimp and Spinach Salad ($10.95) was excellent: a mix of mango, grapefruit, spinach, mixed field greens, tomato, and red onion, tossed with perfectly grilled marinated shrimp, warm goat cheese, and subtle grapefruit vinaigrette. The salad section shows great promise and deserves more exploration.

The Mediterranean Pizza ($8.50) is done on a crust that's a hybrid between cracker and yeast types, topped with olives, pepperoncini, grape tomatoes, provolone, goat cheese, and chicken. It was delicious. The BBQ Brisket Panini Sandwich ($8.95, with fries or cabbage-and-apple cole slaw) was good, but tasted more like a Reuben (the meat lacked much smoky flavor, the mustard aioli predominated, with the Monty cheese and grilled onions on the sidelines).

The Chicken Linguini ($11.95) was a goodly portion and had an overall nice flavor, but was a tad too subtle. The pasta was al dente, tossed with broccoli, wild mushrooms, tomatoes, spinach, chicken, and Parmesan, finished with a cream sauce with "roasted garlic & white wine" (more of both of these please). Dessert was gratis due to the ordering/delivering snafu (although had we not ordered it, I don't know what, if anything, would have been comped). The signature dessert is the White Chocolate Bread Pudding ($4.95), a warm and moist massive chunk in a pool of crème anglaise and strawberry sauce, topped with loads of shaved white chocolate – superb.

Let's talk chicken. The chicken on the pizza and in the pasta was fairly flavorless, and the angles of the cuts and the texture led us to believe that it might have possibly come from a bag out of the freezer. If not, it needs marination compatible to its destination and grilling to truly complete the dishes it becomes a part of. If it did come from a precooked bag, shame on Nordstrom.

We had asked for a small taste of the fries, just to see what they were like. Apparently this was out of the question, and the server (the one we liked not so much) told us she could turn in a side order ($2) for us. With Nordstrom's reputation for stellar customer service, for them to have not thrown a few fries into the oil for us was an anomaly. The quite tasty fries arrived post haste and were of the thin and crisp variety, but served with a kalamata aioli that was way too salty.

All in all, Cafe Bistro is the best food venue in the mall, and the menu is reasonable and inventive (especially strong on salads). Execution needs a bit of tweaking on some items to live up to the reputation one expects from Nordstrom, and the ordering system must find improvement. We will go back.

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