by Ian McNulty
Sara’s Bistro (724 Dublin St., 861-0565) has been around for many years, but this eclectic Riverbend restaurant was always hard to categorize. Some dishes could have been taken from a French bistro, others from a Creole restaurant and then, running cross it all, there was this foundation of both Indian and southeast Asian flavors.
A new menu here, however, is quite different from what Sara’s regulars have come to expect. There’s a hanger steak prepared in the style of Korean bulgogi, for instance,and short ribs, prepared sous vide, the culinary technique that uses vacuum packs and very low heat. There’s a smoked shrimp gazpacho, a lemongrass crab bisque and mussels steamed with kaffir lime leaf, Thai bird chilies and mint.
This menu is the work of Bart Thomas, the restaurant’s new manager and consulting chef.
A north Louisiana native and graduate of the Culinary Institute of America, Thomas says he previously ran his own private chef business in New York and London, shuttling between the two cities. But homesickness led him back to Louisiana and then to New Orleans.
“I stumbled into Sara’s one night because it’s near my house and I thought this was a place with a lot of potential that needed some help,” Thomas says. “The menu really hadn’t changed in 10 years.”
Sara’s longtime chef, Ganesh Ayyengar, is still part of the kitchen and owner Mac Rahman is still involved, while Thomas is handling more of the day-to-day operations.
He says his goal is to put a new polish on the restaurant, from the menu and sourcing to presentation on the plate and drinks at the bar. He describes his culinary approach as “modern New World cuisine.”
His menu still features plenty of Indian flavors, and Thai flavors also. The “fried green tomato and chickpea ‘falafel’” comes with chutney and raita, for instance, and elsewhere on the appetizer list you’ll find vegetable samosas. Among the entrees, there’s saag paneer (an Indian cheese) in masala sauce, chile-crusted shrimp are served with noodles in a coconut green curry and there’s even “sub-continental chicken thighs” spiced with cardamom, cinnamon, coriander. But Thomas bristles at the description of the new Sara’s as an Indian restaurant.
“When people think about an Indian restaurant, they automatically think lunch buffet,” he says. “You wouldn’t believe how many call we get asking when the buffet opens.”
For the record, Sara’s does not have a buffet and doesn’t even serve lunch, though new lunch and brunch service are in the works for later this fall. The new menu is coming along in stages as Thomas sources more local product. For now, Sara’s Bistro serves dinner Tuesday through Saturday.
724 Dublin St., 861-0565