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January 30, 2012

Wining and Dining Upstairs at Leunig's Bistro

IMG_3492“I am not a glutton — I am an explorer of food,” declares the late humorist Erma Bombeck in a quote that decorates the menu at Leunig’s Bistro’s new upstairs speakeasy. But with all the appealing appetizers at last night's soft opening, it was hard not to be both explorer and glutton.

At the top of the dimly lit staircase, a new world blooms into view like an art-deco Oz. Paintings by Mark Evans are positioned around angular sconces from Conant Metal and Light. The overall impression is of a miniature Flynn Center, which may be the desired effect, as the spot seems perfect for the pre- and post-theater crowds. Speaking of unique lighting, table lamps from High Beams Lighting in Sutton have shades decorated with real fiddleheads and horsetail.

IMG_3495The food here, in the depths of winter, is heavier than early spring fiddleheads, but drinks compensate, most notably the St. Germain cocktail, an effervescent tipple made with the elderflower booze and sparkling wine.

For the soft opening, servers brought snacks to each table from the fun new bar menu. When the place opens for real tomorrow night, prices will be reasonable. After all, the purpose of the bar is to handle overflow from guests waiting to spend most of their dollars dining downstairs.

An ample serving of candied Vermont Smoke & Cure bacon kettle corn, with a hint of spice, is $4. My favorite snack, the duck fat kettle chips, is among the most expensive at $7. It's worth the splurge, calorically speaking. Sweet duck fat seeps into the crisp potatoes, which are dusted with pepper and coarse salt. Truffle aioli comes on the side, for a pairing as sensuous as silk and satin.

Other highlights include “French onion bites,” which are presented in compartmented dishes meant for escargot. Each chunk of toast combines all the best elements of the restaurant’s signature soup, sans broth. I was also fond of the creamy, meaty Bayley-Hazen-Blue-and-bacon dip, which came with warm, buttery crostini, and the ultra-dark homemade coconut truffle, thrice the size of most bon bons I've seen.

The upstairs bar opens at 5 p.m., Tuesday through Saturday, and closes at 10 p.m. during the week and 11p.m. on weekends. Sundays, it's open for brunch, with a range of special Bloody Marys and a raw bar. Those looking for a meaty morning can try a cocktail made with bouillon, bacon and olives stuffed with pepperoni. Meet you upstairs?

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