Monday, May 26, 2008

Sq 1 Bistro

UPDATE: (12/31/09) - Fat Kat and I have been back to Sq 1 a couple of times recently and we have both been VERY impressed. Everything we have had has been excellent. So, even though I am not really maintaining this blog anymore, I felt I needed to update this review. They have added many small plates to their menu and I have had several of them. They were also our first stop on the Small Plate Crawl (1st annual in November 09) and loved it. They also have the Underground Baking Co. operating out of their kitchen now. They use the bakery's breads on their menu and the bakery itself sells goods from the kitchen entrance. Fantastic! So, the below review still has some relevance, but the quality of the food and service is now top-notch. I have upgraded their fork rating to 4.5 .

Fat Kat have been watching Sq 1 Bistro ( for awhile now. It opened about a month ago and is in the same general area of Never Blue and West First (both places we like). The menu looked good and the prices right in line with our new mid-priced restaurant mantra. Sq 1 is in the same location as the previous Potenza, a so-so Italian restaurant. What worried me is that the same chef for Potenza now owns Sq 1 and is again, cooking. I had not been impressed with Potenza, so wondered how Sq 1 would fare with the same chef. What I hoped is that given the freedom to be his own boss and make what he wanted, that the food would be dramatically better. In a nutshell, we tried dinner and a friend tried brunch and the result was mixed success.

For a three-day weekend Friday, it wasn't mobbed, but was reasonably busy. We did not have reservations, but got right in. The atmosphere was nice, very similar to the Potenza feel (they were only closed for about a week or two for the "renovations", so it is very similar). It is industrial, yet warm. It was very dark in spots, however, including our table; so it was a bit difficult for these 40-something eyes to read the menu. Partly their fault, partly my genetics. They include daily specials on a paper in the menu and there is a solid beer and wine list. I prefer the paper specials insert to the "announcements" that servers give, sometimes with, sometimes without, prices. Being a visual person, I much prefer to just read the descriptions, prices and all, so I can make an informed decision. If I have to listen, invariably there is a fair amount of "could you repeat please" going on.

Fat Kat decided on an appetizer of sweet potato fries (something we have found at several restaurants lately, and enjoy). Unfortunately, the sweet potato fries ended up being the highlight of the evening. I will preface all of this by saying that perhaps we chose our entrees poorly, perhaps it was an off evening. Not sure. Overall, it wouldn't keep us from trying again, but with a bit less enthusiasm maybe?

They have several land, sea, and other options for entrees and everything is very reasonably priced (entrees running $13 - $20). There were, in fact, several salads that looked really good too. The entrees do not come with salads, which is perhaps partly how they keep their prices so reasonable. If you want a salad, you must order it ala carte. After much deliberation, Fat Kat settled on the bouillabaisse (a soup of sorts including many seafood items) and I, on the salmon special. The bread showed up slightly before our sweet potato fries. The bread was very good, although cold. Unfortunately, I remembered after the fact that another reviewer had reported only so-so bouillabaisse. Wish I'd remembered that before Fat Kat ordered it. Consider the first reviewer's opinion confirmed!

Our server was good, not great. She was quite pleasant and very helpful, but made one major faux pas. Our empty bread basket, bread plates, AND appetizer plate was never cleared until AFTER our entire entrees were finished. And we were sitting at a small table for two where space was an issue. It wasn't like she was ignoring us either. She came by several times to check on us, which was great, but never once removed a plate until we were done eating. As small as our table was, we really could've used the extra space! She also did not remove my wine glass once she knew I did not want any more. I didn't bring it to her attention because I was curious just how long she would let them sit there.

Oh, and how could I forget? Our entire evening was punctuated just about every 30 seconds with an extremely loud SCREEEEEECH from the kitchen door. Every single time someone went in or out. It was truly like fingernails on a chalkboard. After awhile, you just cringed waiting for it to happen again. I suggested to the server that perhaps some WD-40 might be in order?! She just shrugged and walked off. Seriously, something. Vegetable oil? Olive oil? I know you got some of that back there! The good news is that my friend who went to brunch two days later was happy to report that the screech was gone.

Ok, back to the food. As I said, the sweet potato fries were excellent. They were crispy and flavorful, came with a sweetened butter, and cinnamon was tucked away somewhere in the mix. Great. Then, the bouillabaisse was only s0-so at best. It came with mussels, scallops, salmon and one other unidentifiable fish. Tuna, we think. Everything except the mussels were really overcooked. The scallops were positively chewy. Very sad. I almost ordered the scallop entree, but was fearful that they would be chewy. Now just because they were chewy in the bouillabaisse doesn't mean they would've been in the entree. I'm guessing that the soup was made ahead of time and all the seafood elements were just merrily cooking away - all evening. To add to the disappointment, the broth was severely lacking in flavor. It only perked up after Fat Kat finally added copious amounts of salt and pepper.

The good news was that my salmon was much better, but still, not great. First of all, the menu description claimed it came in puff pastry, which is one of the reasons I ordered it. There was no puff pastry to be found. The shallot and red wine demi glace was, however, tasty. The mashed potatoes it rested on and the leek vegetable medley were also very good. Oh and by the way, there was no discussion of mashed potatoes in the menu description either. But I was glad they were included. There just seemed to be a fairly radical diversion from the menu when it came to my entree. In my case, really no major harm, no foul, but it did irk me a bit. So neither entree was really a winner, but I liked mine well enough to take the rest home and had it the next night.

We then forged on ahead to dessert. Fat Kat had a free Kilwin's ice cream cone burning a hole in his pocket so he wasn't getting any dessert, but I always like to hear what my options are. I was tossed up between the flourless chocolate torte (hard to screw that up) and an apple tartin served with vanilla ice cream. I threw caution to the wind and opted for the apple tartin (verifying first that were no nuts). Sigh. It was ok. Why is it that I am so often disappointed with restaurant desserts?? I will say that the apple topping/filling was very good. Lots of flavor and a good texture. But, the pastry was so tough, I actually had to ask for a knife to cut it! I sawed and sawed and nearly put my foot on it trying to use my fork and just gave up. Fat Kat tried the same (I allowed him one bite) and he couldn't crack it either. So, I asked for the knife (and told the server why) and finally conquered the pastry. It had good flavor, but was SO chewy.

The following Sunday, my friend went for brunch with her family and reported that everything was very good. Sounds like they had a much better experience than we did. She had the apple and cinnamon crepes and said it was very good although the apples still had their skins on. Wouldn't bother me, but would bother Fat Kat. The other two in their party had the bacon and brie omelet. They said the omelets were great texture and good flavor, but light on the brie. They raved about the biscuits and jam! Their only complaint is that the proclaimed "fresh squeezed orange juice" tasted more like Tang, even though the server verified it was, in fact, fresh squeezed. It was busy, but not jammed and the service was good. Their brunch prices per entree run about $6 - $7, which is very reasonable. If you want to read a more detailed review of the brunch, go to . That review should be posted within the next couple of days.

So, some varied experiences at Sq 1. We want to love it because it has a nice atmosphere, a good selection of food (both dinner and brunch) and great price points. But, it just really fell short at dinner, although seemed to do quite well with brunch. I would like to give it another chance, but for now it will remain at only 3.5 forks.

Sq 1 Bistro
111 S. Main St.
Hendersonville, NC

4:30 pm - 10;00 pm, 7 days a week
11:30 am - 3:00 pm, Sunday Brunch
Read more!