Welcome to the Neighbourhood: By Carly Peters
Bonfire Bistro offers a vibrant atmosphere with delicious Mediterranean fare and excellent value any night of the week.
The kitchen is the heart of the home, so it’s not surprising a cozy restaurant could be the epicentre of a neighbourhood. Bonfire Bistro, set in the middle of River Heights, has developed a devoted neighbourhood clientele since owner Duncan Grant opened it eight years ago. So much so that if you’re not at the restaurant by 5:30 p.m. on a weekend, and even some weekdays, you might end up waiting for a table at the newly expanded 50-seat restaurant. But, this simple, classic bistro, where the vibrant and intimate atmosphere is enhanced by staff addressing patrons by name, and guests mingling from table to table, is worth the wait any night of the week.
“Bonfire doesn’t have to be just a weekend dining destination,” says Lorraine Freiboth, front manager for the restaurant. “We’re very casual and comfortable - you can come in jeans. We’ve got a menu style and pricing that lends itself to everyday dining.”
Bonfire Bistro, the sister restaurant to both Café Carlo and latest family member, Burrito Del Rio, has focused mainly on Mediterranean fare, with executive chef Shaun Ursell incorporating the use of wine and fresh herbs into the dishes.
The restaurant’s artful salads, including the popular caprese, are natural starter selections before ordering one of their signature pizzas. Also, many regulars opt for one of the hearty antipasti dishes. The newest item, replacing the bistro’s bountiful bowls of mussels, is Manila clams with chorizo sausage and artichokes simmered in a saffron marinara sauce served with grilled Portuguese water bread to sop up the sauce. “Not a lot of restaurants use them,” says Ursell. “Clams are much meatier than mussels and come with such beautiful shells. They’re great to cook with.”
Seafood, with a Mediterranean flair, also finds its way into many entrees. Ursell says one of the most popular items is the paella, a Spanish rice dish, first cooked in a cast iron skillet and then baked in the restaurant’s wood-fired oven, topped with chicken, chorizo, clams, prawns, sea scallops, tomatoes, and peas baked with saffron infused arborio rice. Yet, the heart and hearth of this bistro is undoubtedly the 650- degree, slate-tiled, wood-fired oven, which turns out crispy, 10-inch pizzas in under five minutes. Topping the tables most often is the Bonfire Hawaiian, a mix of capicollo ham, fire-roasted fresh pineapple, roasted red and jalapeno peppers, green onion, mozzarella, feta, and cilantro on spicy La Bomba sauce. For those who enjoy a more traditional Mediterranean style “pie”, there’s the prosciutto with fresh pear, arugula, mozzarella, and St. Agur bleu cheese, which has been on the menu since inception.
These juxtapositions of flavours, temperatures, and textures come from a kitchen where creativity, passion, and customer satisfaction blend together to create a simple, yet strong menu. Ursell adds that the collective kitchen has begun moving towards more comfort foods, made from scratch as always, that reflects the bistro’s casual, colloquial feel.
“We’re doing simple foods, but they are done well, made with passion, and raise the level of quality,” he says. “It’s great to have a team that is willing to learn and get closer to their source of food in order to do so. We prefer to get a whole fish and break it down ourselves. Or we’ve been playing with braised meats, and cooking them low and slow. We don’t just go for the easy-to-cook cuts, we like a challenge in order to step outside of our cooking comfort zone.”
You can find out more about Bonfire Bistro and see their menu online at www.bonfirebistro.ca