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815 Prime: Midway bistro proves a prime example of versatility

Chef shows what he's made of by adapting his repertoire for new Midway bistro

Contributing Restaurant CriticJuly 29, 2011 


    815 Prime

    Address: 131 E. Main St., Midway

    Phone: (859) 846-4688

    Hours: Lunch: 11 a.m.-2 p.m. Wed.-Sun. Dinner: 5:30-9 p.m. Tue.-Sat. Brunch: 11 a.m.-2 p.m. Sun. Tavern: 4:30 p.m.-close Tue.-Sun.

    Online: 815prime.com

    Other: Street parking. Alcoholic beverages served. Locally sourced food. A la carte menu. Vegetarian options. Appetizers $2-$14, soups and salads $6-$8, sandwiches and entrees $8-$31, brunch items $1-$12.

MIDWAY — I have enjoyed the versatile food of chef Nicolas Trueblood in three settings, yet I don't think I really know him. His culinary persona is chameleonlike. His high standards accompany him wherever he goes, to be sure, but his menu changes with his venue, be it a high-end dining room (The Mansion at Griffin Gate), an exquisitely contemporary restaurant (Heirloom) or, now, a pure bistro, as at 815 Prime.

The first floor of a former hardware store in Midway, which formerly held Quirk Café, retains its walls of exposed brick and pounded tin ceilings that have been painted white. Fans provide most of the restaurant's cooling while the tavern downstairs has air- conditioning — something to know when temperatures soar, as they have recently. Full-length windows provide plenty of natural light and a view of Midway's charming Main Street, complete with strolling pedestrians and railroad tracks.

From this vantage point, a three-course lunch of beautifully prepared food for two, with enough to take home, will cost a little more than $40, plus a generous tip to acknowledge the excellent service of the lunchtime crew.

In summer, cold soup or salad is the way to begin.

Because 815's food is seasonal, the time is right for Trueblood's silky gazpacho. The color of pale poppies, it is swirled with a bit of oil for richness, dotted with diced Manchego cheese, then given contrasting crunch with a light topping of salsa fresca that mirrored the cucumber in the soup itself. Its slight spiciness and smokiness made me think of pimentón, Spain's famous paprika.

The Caesar salad is chilled and crisp, but I would have liked a richer mouthfeel. Given that this is classically achieved with a coddled egg, it is no surprise that few restaurants will risk it, but there is really no good substitute. That said, the croutons were garlicky, and several white anchovies were a salty luxury.

At 815, your bacon is cooked to order. That's a smart move, given the wide berth of opinion about the proper texture of bacon: chewy or crunchy, dry or moist.

Order a BLT and see for yourself. It is served on a ciabatta roll with chipotle mayonnaise, a slice of ripe local heirloom tomato and tender lettuce.

Potatoes in their many forms go hand in glove with a good sandwich. Trueblood likes pretty orange chips, some crisper than others, sprinkled lightly with sea salt — and I do, too.

It is with whimsy that a Massachusetts chef spins classic mussels into a chowder — oops, excuse me, a "chowda" — replacing heavy cream and anise liqueur with a milky broth lightly infused with fennel (I did catch a few too many woody stalks here and there) and enriched with a judicious helping of tender diced potatoes. Replacing classic frites are large fingers of fried corn bread; we are in the South, after all.

Even if you take part of your entrée home, save room for some dessert. They are not huge but are ample for two. The trifle is just heavenly: fresh whipped cream, tender pound cake, a simple custard and the lovely freshness of sweet strawberries and tart, paper-thin slices of rhubarb.

The wine list is solid, reasonably priced and compatible with all the menu's offerings. I would like to see vintages, however, especially because there are whites with short-term expiration dates.

As time goes by, I predict tweaking with a few things, like the pappardelle pasta that is too thick for winding on a fork. Nevertheless, it is great that Trueblood has emerged in yet another guise. And frankly, if he never changes this one, it will be OK with me.

Wendy Miller is a Lexington-based food and spirits writer and critic.

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