Brian Connelly and Matthew Treanor wanted their new restaurant to be noticed, so they painted it bright orange, inside and out. Color also figures highly in Treanor's well-priced repertoire of New American dishes, only three of which are priced above $20. In a neighborhood that's long been short on such dining spots, Ludlow Bistro brings to the table a welcome union of affordability and style.
Much of the time, Treanor marries style to substance, producing, for example, a perfectly lovely salad of baby spinach and candied pecans in a subtly smoky bacon sherry dressing. Occasionally, however, treatments tend toward over-orchestration, as was the case in a salad comprised of Bibb lettuce, tropical fruit, pistachio nuts and -- gasp -- sweetened coconut shreds, the whole thing tossed with a cloying coconut vinaigrette.
But an appetizer of crisp shrimp tempura with a sweet (but not too sweet) Sichuan glaze worked well. Pleasing, too, was a giant lump crab cake whose consistency was loose and creamy rather than bready, as too many crab cakes tend to be. As one who prefers my crab naked, I thought the snappy topping of roasted corn salsa, lemon, capers and herb remoulade would have worked better on the side. Pistachio-crusted scallops, while a bit heavy, made for a less cluttered plate.
Treanor struck a nice balance with an entree of an orange chile-glazed mahi mahi with fried plantains and mango salsa, the fruitiness cut by the heat of the chile peppers. In another presentation, jumbo shrimp were attractively arranged over toasted orzo, asparagus tips, scallions and peppers in a citrus beurre blanc, making for a flavorful, colorful combination. Those same large shrimp turned up atop a special of savory eggplant ravioli in a garlic-scented broth. Striped lobster ravioli were stuffed with a lobster-ricotta mixture and served over a melange that included lump crab, sauteed spinach and roasted tomatoes in a white wine and lemon butter broth. A bit much? In theory perhaps, but the dish would have totally worked had it been served hot instead of lukewarm.
I was lukewarm about pan-seared chicken topped with spinach and mozzarella in a Madeira wine reduction; the cheese blanketed the chicken, next to which rose a mountain of mashed potatoes, creating a beige plate-scape.
Because I'm too often served fish that's overcooked, I requested my horseradish-crusted salmon in Dijon cream sauce medium-rare; what came was nearly raw. In retrospect, I should have sent it back, but I was quite content with the pearl couscous and caramelized vegetables surrounding the fish.
I was a bit too satisfied with dessert. Everything was house-made and irresistible. There was a summery peach-raspberry cobbler special, served warm and a la mode in an oblong casserole, as well as a similar (and no less alluring) apple crisp from the regular menu. The requisite flourless chocolate cake with ice cream was better than most, and that old standby, tiramisu, was especially airy and lush, disappearing in seconds flat.
While servers were sometimes fumbling, they were always well-meaning. The owners might want to work on sharpening their wine-service skills. What they won't want to tamper with is the bistro's good vibe, as conspicuous as its orange walls.
Reviewed by Joan Reminick, 6/23/06.