by Kent Cisar | June 26, 2018 5:33 am
How a Dundee anchor and Countryside newcomer keep their menus dynamic and their guests coming back for more.
The Christmas tree is down, the New Year’s ball has dropped and the Valentine’s roses are no more. The big holidays are in the rear view yet the full bounty of our region’s local foods aren’t available to local restaurants. Spring is a challenging time in the Omaha restaurant scene for places that try to keep their menu seasonally exciting and accessible. I met with decision makers of a couple of my favorite Omaha eateries: Chef James Davis of Mark’s Bistro in Dundee and Zac Miller, General Manager of Timber Wood Fire Bistro in Countryside Village to discuss how they turn this challenge into opportunity.
Mark’s and Timber are two of my favorite restaurants for similar reasons. Their menus from start to finish are interesting. If you’re a table of two or a table of ten, you can choose to go your own way with your order or create a diverse and dynamic culinary experience. I have my favorites at both places, but I walk in with an open mind to what their menu presents. My favorites always deliver, and the new dishes challenge my taste buds. Most importantly, every time I walk out of each place, the quality of the dining experience significantly exceeds the cost I paid to get it. These two restaurants are passionate about their food and the experience they provide their guests from start to finish and it shows. What most guests don’t realize or see is that experience starts in the preparation that goes into what appears on that menu.
The excellence of these two establishments begins in the research put into their creations. Chef Davis says he and his team do a lot of research and are always looking for ways to make things better. It keeps things exciting for his team. “We want to make sure a dish is feasible to execute at peak busy time. If we can’t execute our best dish at the busiest time of night, then it won’t be on the menu.” Mark’s tries to use local foods year round, and for the spring season, they look to heavier root vegetables that have a 5-6 month shelf life. As we move into Spring Chef Davis looks to Robinette Farms, a small scale family farm in Martell, Nebraska using their micro greens and vegetables early.
Timber also places an emphasis on local foods. “Having fresh ingredients enhances the quality and we think our clientele appreciates that,” says Miller. Miller believes his restaurant tries to be trendsetting but responsive to the guests’ feedback. “We look to be ahead of the curve locally, and are ok with being different, offering items and presentations rarely, if at all found in Omaha.” In less than a year, Timber’s prohibition black chicken has become a staple which does not surprise Miller. Other guest feedback does however, “I would never have thought we’d be buying scallops at this time of year with their current cost, but our guests keep ordering them because of the quality we deliver.”
Superior ingredient quality is an emphasis at both places. “We want you to experience the dish as it is, limiting substitutions enhances the quality of the dining experience and helps guests understand and interpret the purpose in every bite,” says Miller. “It’s important to focus on letting the ingredient shine when you use high quality items,” says Davis. “We don’t overcook things or over work them,” he adds. On our last visit, my girlfriend and I had one of our staple starters (the bistro tots) and something new for us, their asparagus and leek flatbread. Asparagus is far from my first thought on a flatbread but it works well because of the combination of ingredients. The addition of caramelized leeks, a grilled artichoke, chevre and lemon oil give it a brightness, bounce and depth of flavor. “We want to present ingredients/menu items that guests may not believe to be culinarily feasible or cost effective in a manner that makes them realize it is possible,” says Davis.
Both Timber and Mark’s excel in creating an experience. Timber’s experience commences before you walk in the door as the aroma of wood burning invites you in. No matter where your seat is, the ambience distances you from the mere steps you are away from a bustling Pacific Street. “Be relaxed when you come in here, we want to you to order what you want,” says Miller. He said guests can “order a drink and a pizza, an entrée, sandwich, special or dessert, and you should expect and receive the same quality on all parts of the menu.” On our last visit my girlfriend got the scallops Miller mentioned above. The dish had more quality scallops than anything I’ve seen in the area. I had the Berkshire Cuban schnitzel which was spectacular. The braising of the bacon, garlic aioli and mojo slaw took my interpretation of a Cuban sandwich in a different direction, yet maintained the classic elements of the sandwich I enjoy. If you’ve finished your morning workout and are in for brunch, or dressed up for dinner before an evening show, you feel comfortable at Timber. The consistency of Timber is also important. Miller adds, “We need a consistent team from the chef who designs the menu to our kitchen who make it to the servers who are knowledgeable and passionate about our food.”
Mark’s is an invitation into someone’s beautiful Dundee home, which just happens to be a restaurant. Chef Davis says, “We know people want more than just food, they want an experience and we are happy to provide it.” At Mark’s, you’ll receive an all-encompassing experience from the classy yet comfortable atmosphere to the courteous reception and attention you receive from the staff, and the visual and taste bud appeal of their food. As the days get longer and warmer, securing a spot on Mark’s patio is a sterling dining destination. On some visits, we’ll focus on appetizers, sandwiches, small plates and desserts. Other occasions a couple of their main courses or specials will catch our eye and appetite and we’ll indulge in them.
Today the restaurant experience is about more than eating a good meal and going home. Visiting an excellent restaurant with equally good company can be the highlight of your day or of your week. To accomplish this task, the establishment needs to excel with an inviting atmosphere, welcoming and knowledgeable staff, and a menu that is intriguing, approachable, and provides value. As Chef Davis emphasizes, “We want you to slow down and enjoy the experience, then tell others about it, and then come back.” At both Timber Wood Fire Bistro and Mark’s Bistro, the satisfaction you feel as you leave will turn to anticipation of your next visit. That visit, with the experience these two places provide, will be sooner than you think.
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