Take One: Zambistro
Medina is one of those towns that made its mark during the heyday of the Erie Canal by offering boaters a stopover and acting as a depot for fresh fruit and vegetables from nearby farms. Take a picture of its downtown using the black-and-white setting on your digital camera, and, apart from the cars and business signs, the photo won’t look much different from one taken 100 years ago. Nonetheless, it’s a charming little burg with a gorgeous Main Street. Though a bit off the beaten path—you may have passed through on your way to Brown’s Berry Patch or en route to Lake Ontario from Batavia—Medina deserves to be much more than it has become.
In and around the town, the Zambito name is ubiquitous, mostly because of the eponymous real estate agency headquartered there. It also lends its name, in part, to Zambistro, a quiet little restaurant tucked into a wonderful old storefront on Main Street, not far from the canal. The place is run by chef/owner Michael Zambito, who returned to his native Medina to open the restaurant in 2006. Zambistro offers cosmopolitan atmosphere, a contemporary menu, and a level of service usually reserved for bigger towns.
Upon being seated, we were offered a delicious amuse bouche of peppery, lemony barleycorn and smoked salmon. Warm bread was served for the table with both regular and Kalamata olive butter. Zambistro’s menu is seasonal, and we dined from the spring 2012 menu. (There is also a kids’ menu featuring standbys like burgers, as well as a kid-sized filet mignon.)
The fried calamari starter was dipped in a buttermilk batter, then fried and served with remoulade and marinara sauce. The batter was quite good, but nothing extraordinary. The inexpensive house salad—garnished with grape tomatoes, sliced cucumber, and spun carrots—was fresh throughout and perfectly fine. Although it is usually served with house strawberry vinaigrette dressing and crumbly blue cheese, we all opted instead for a balsamic vinaigrette with crumbly blue.
An evening special, a bone-in veal chop served with a sweet cherry reduction and creamy gorgonzola, was hearty and satisfying. The sweet cherry sauce played nicely against the sharp cheese, and lent a fine flavor to the savory, juicy piece of meat. The Zambistro Ragu featured fresh flat pasta cooked al dente, and absolutely loaded with sausage and pulled pork. The sauce was reduced to a hearty, thick consistency without completely obliterating the strong tomato base; though the menu indicated red pepper flakes, it wasn’t particularly spicy. A flavorful salmon was poached, served with fresh, in-season asparagus and mashed potatoes.
A vegetarian risotto is among the "comfort" offerings here.
A section near the end of the menu is billed merely as Comfort. It featured liver and onions, bacon-wrapped meatloaf, two types of macaroni and cheese, and a vegetarian risotto. We ordered the risotto, which really burst with flavor. It was packed with grilled summer veggies, roasted peppers, tomatoes, and artichokes, and topped with a generous, creamy sprinkling of goat cheese. We also tried the Gouda and white truffle macaroni and cheese; creamy and savory, the truffle shavings were generous, and the cheese sauce was satisfyingly smoky. A dollop of bread crumbs gave it a bit of needed texture.
So is Zambistro worth a trip from the immediate Buffalo area? Not necessarily, but if you find yourself in or around Medina for any reason, it’s definitely worth a visit. The service is quick, informative, friendly, and competent. Our table of six, including two kids, didn’t create any problems for our server, and the kitchen was on point: everything came out as requested, on time.
Zambistro aspires to be fine dining, and it comes reasonably close, landing more analogous to contemporary casual that takes an occasional risk. But for such a place to exist where it does for the past six years speaks to a loyal clientele who appreciate that there is somewhere nice to dine with linens, a wine selection, and a friendly, warm atmosphere.
Alan Bedenko writes on food for Spree and blogs on politics and more at Artvoice.com.