Diner: Review: Encore

New spot in Wyoming is a work in progress

Joe Lamb

Encore Bistro & Bar

Among stately homes with well-manicured lawns, Encore Bistro & Bar emerges modestly from the shady trees. With its creamy exterior and broad roofline, this Encore clearly isn't like its siblings, which generally inhabit strip malls along busier commercial corridors.

Recently transitioned from its former incarnation (Sturkey's), we asked our hostess how extensive the renovations had been. "Basically, we just repainted," she reported breezily, referring to the stark yellow walls.

Art-glass pendant lights dangle from the ceiling, and wood tables are spaciously arranged among several rooms. But the place feels unfinished, like they're still thinking through the décor.

This impression, unfortunately, extends throughout the dining experience, making Encore feel more like a work-in-progress than one ready for its star turn. On each visit, surprising issues arose.

For instance, dining room temperatures vary wildly depending on where you're seated. Dress in layers; near the windows an arctic chill blows from the registers along the top of the banquettes.

On my second visit, six weeks after opening, I ordered their Cajun Martini ($8). Though prominently trumpeted on the menu (vodka house-infused with red pepper and onion, garnished with pickled okra), our waiter returned empty-handed, explaining that the bartender didn't realize he was supposed to have those ingredients: "He's in there now trying to decide which vodka to infuse." They should have made that decision long before the drink was put on the menu.

Luckily, the service staff is uniformly attentive and informative. They refilled water (and iced tea) without being asked and didn't overfill wine glasses (a pet peeve). Endearingly, they also delivered a parade of napkins to my young son, who somehow kept "losing" them.

While perusing the new menu, which offers interesting-sounding, moderately priced choices, warm bread appears fresh from the oven and a plate is filled with delicious emerald-green basil dipping oil.

Though a higher-end "captain's list" is available, the inexpensive, 16-bottle "house" wine list is well chosen. We enjoyed a Castillo del Baron Monastrell ($25/bottle) from Spain that provides plummy fruit and meaty, herbal complexity. And, though it lacked zip, a citrusy Monkey Bay Sauvignon Blanc ($7/glass) was refreshing.

On one visit, we ordered Artichoke Fritters ($5) from the "small plates" menu normally available only in the bar. Served with Dijon aioli and stuffed with marinated artichoke hearts, these two-bite poppers are highly addictive. We also devoured the appetizer sampler ($15), featuring delicious chicken wings, meaty BBQ ribs, crisp and filling chicken- and andouille-filled spring rolls and garlicky feta cheese dip.

Soups ($3/cup or $5/bowl each) and salads here are also uniformly satisfying. On various occasions, we sampled a chicken and bacon corn chowder, whimsically garnished with a sprinkling of popcorn; wonderful, slightly spicy black bean soup nicely calmed by decorative swirls of sour cream; and a special chilled soup enriched by chopped nuts and the crunch of candied walnuts. "The Wedge" ($6) is a classic steakhouse salad: a wedge of iceberg lettuce drizzled with chunky homemade blue cheese dressing and sprinkled with meaty kalamata olives and smoky bacon.

After these promising early acts, however, entrées prove less consistent. One evening, my dad's Braised Short Ribs ($20) were melt-in-your-mouth tender, meaty and filling; a horseradish Dijon crust added an appealing twist. But my Espresso- and Coriander-Crusted Pork Tenderloin ($16) was overcooked, and the coffee flavor overwhelmed the dry meat. Both came with a mix of sautéed vegetables (zucchini, carrots, onions and tomatoes) and a generous helping of garlic mashed potatoes.

Happily, the kitchen shows a deft touch with fish, and a Parmesan-Crusted Grouper ($18) served over jasmine rice with a pat of key-lime butter was a big winner. The huge filet was steaming hot and cooked perfectly — crispy on the outside yet flaky and juicy. On another occasion, Cashew-Crusted Salmon ($18) was well prepared, but its puddle of gelatinous hoisin/wasabi sauce was distastefully cloying. Crab cakes ($18) were quite good, though, with big chunks of delicious lump crabmeat served with crunchy slaw.

Our kids split an enormous Pasta Encore ($14), mini-penne loaded with grilled chicken, artichoke hearts, sun-dried tomatoes, spinach and feta. It looks sloppy, but they loved it — and we left with enough for a hearty lunch the next afternoon.

With coffee, we shared the sublime Fruit Tart ($7), a rectangular puff pastry shell filled with sweet, creamy mascarpone cheese and topped with a liberal layer of large, ripe seasonal berries.

The "baked-to-order" chocolate chip cookie with vanilla ice cream seems a riskier choice: When the next table's dessert was delivered, their cookie was AWOL. The manager apologized, saying it had gotten burnt but another would be ready in just 15 minutes. They demurred. After all, 30 minutes is too long to linger for a $6 cookie.

All in all, they try hard here, but this Encore needs more time in rehearsals before earning any ovations. It exhibits promise, though, and is worth a visit to see how things progress. ©

Encore Bistro & Bar
Go: 400 Wyoming Ave., Wyoming

Call: 513-821-9200

Hours: 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Sunday, 11 a.m.-midnight Monday-Saturday; lunch menu available through 4 p.m.

Prices: Moderate

Payment: Visa, MasterCard, American Express, Discover

Red Meat Alternatives: Salads, pasta, fish and chicken

Accessibility: The spacious layout provides easy access to dining room and bar, but an upstairs party room is less accessible

Grade: B

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