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Bite Bistro & Bar restaurant review, Alpharetta

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When Leif Johnson moved to Atlanta six years ago, packing up his life as a winery chef in Napa Valley, he hadn’t planned on settling in Alpharetta.

In fact, when Johnson was on the hunt for an intimate space to set up a chef-driven contemporary bistro after running a catering business in Dunwoody for a few years, he combed trendier Buckhead and Midtown, but never found the right fit. Little did he suspect it would be at a former strip-mall cafe in Alpharetta where he’d make his mark in the South.

Opened in early 2011, Bite began as a tiny lunch-centric spot with dinner service Thursdays through Saturdays and a very tight menu of mostly sandwiches, flatbreads and salads.

AJC Dining Team member Jon Watson writes about popular eats.

AJC Dining Team member Jon Watson writes about popular eats.

As he quickly built a core of loyal patrons and cheerleaders over the next two years, it became clear Johnson needed to expand. What was supposed to be a weeks-long expansion into the neighboring space ballooned into months, but the new Bite Bistro & Bar reopened in January with expanded hours and a broader menu.

Bite has positioned itself well as a neighborhood bistro, drawing heavily from the Alpharetta and John’s Creek area and bringing in a loyal group of repeat customers. Be it lunch or dinner, the still-cozy space rarely feels close to empty. While reservations are allowed for groups of eight or more at the “tree table,” the remainder of the 56 seats are left for walk-ins, first come, first served. One crowded Friday night had us waiting 15 or 20 minutes for a table for two — by no means unreasonable — though there isn’t much room for loitering in the tight space when there is a packed house.

Thankfully, we found an open loveseat near the hostess stand, right beneath a collection of mounted miniature porcelain animal heads. While the contemporary décor is comfortable and stylish, it elicited a few quizzical looks from the group, particularly the large red plastic chandelier. It feels one part hunting lodge, one part “Clockwork Orange.”

Drawing from his California roots, Johnson, along with collaborator and chef de cuisine Jason Morgan, focuses on New American cuisine with occasional Latin-American influences. And while the duo has added to the regularly changing menu, the much-loved staples remain.

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Credit: Becky Stein

It would be a mistake to visit Bite and miss out on the Lobster Roll ($17 lunch/$19 dinner). One of the few year-round items, it is no wonder this dish earned so many fans. Morgan’s creation expertly balances tarragon against the buttery lobster meat, crunches with chopped celery, and cuts the rich aioli with lemon zest and a topping of pickled onion, served on a black pepper-thyme roll. This dish is undoubtedly one of the best of its kind in the city.

The fig and prosciutto flatbread ($10) also returns. It’s a great shareable dish for groups, with the sweetness of the fig, the salty ham and the bite of the balsamic reduction all balancing well against the creamy mascarpone. Another holdover from the old menu, the red chili pork taco ($9 lunch/$10 dinner), is the only taco to make the leap from the lunch menu to dinner. Johnson’s mole barbecue sauce might smother the flavor of the smoked pork, but paired with the pickled jalapeno slaw and onions, you’ll barely notice or care.

While the menu features its share of highlights, some dishes feel overwrought. In the double ($12 lunch/$15 dinner), Johnson assembles a fantastic pair of 4-ounce burger patties of ground short rib and brisket, but they’re bogged down by an unnecessary topping of bacon and a sort of Russian dressing. Scraped down to just beef, cheese, pickles and onions, I can much better appreciate the quality of the beef — this isn’t a patty that should be hidden behind heavy sauces.

Similarly, I enjoyed every bite of the pork belly small plate ($14) — though the serving is easily entrée sized. The sunchoke puree and crisped Brussels sprouts go wonderfully with the savory pork, but I still don’t understand the single seared scallop awkwardly perched on top. This dish is fine without it, and the slightly overcooked and a tad too fishy scallop detracts more than enhances.

On a separate visit weeks prior, the same fishy issues haunted the diver scallops entrée ($27). We spent most of our time picking around them to get at the tomato-corn sofrito and roasted leek risotto.

Consistency also can also be an issue, especially on the busiest nights. When my duck breast ($25) arrived charred, I

Credit: Becky Stein

Credit: Becky Stein

credited the staff for calling it to my attention before I noticed, informing me that a properly cooked piece was already in the making. I satiated myself on the savory bowl of root vegetables while I waited, and the replacement duck arrived juicy and perfectly cooked.

While I appreciated the gesture and the proactive approach, the first duck shouldn’t have left the kitchen.

And I’m not interested in trying the short rib pappardelle ($22) again to discern whether the grey, tough cubes of beef on the otherwise delicious bowl of pasta were an error in design or execution.

Bite does a lot of things well, and in some cases does them exceptionally so. But, whether through error in implementation or concept, there are enough letdowns that I’d advise accompanying a more experienced friend to act as your guide.

If you are in the neighborhood, it is certainly worth a try; just order carefully.

Bite Bistro & Bar
11500 Webb Bridge Road Suite A9, Alpharetta. 770-754-5500
1stars5
Food: New American cuisine
Service: polite and helpful
Best dishes: lobster roll, pork belly and scallop, fig and prosciutto flatbread
Vegetarian selections: some sides and salads
Credit cards: all major cards
Hours: Lunch 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Mondays-Saturdays; dinner 5 p.m.-10 p.m. Mondays-Saturdays; bar open late. Closed Sundays.
Children: Call the babysitter.
Parking: ample
Reservations: parties of eight or more
Wheelchair access: yes
Smoking: no
Noise level: moderate
Patio: yes, weather permitting
Takeout: yes

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5 comments Add your comment

[...] Bite Bistro & Bar restaurant review, Alpharetta [...]

Veliki Kardinal

March 29th, 2013
5:33 am

I just got paid $6784 working off my laptop this month. And if you think that’s cool, my divorced friend has twin toddlers and made over $9k her first month. It feels so good making so much money when other people have to work for so much less. This is what I do, Rich45.com_

Rex

March 29th, 2013
12:31 pm

I liked the prussian sauce–a lot actually. It is one thing that helps set it apart from the four billion burgers in Atlanta, many also quite good. However, my wife doesn’t like many sauces and ordered her burger without it. It is very easy to do. You should try it next time. They will oblige.

Your complaint is merely a preference–one which this burgermeister thinks is wrong. Regardless, it is a preference and not a demerit.

Susan Marler

March 29th, 2013
7:20 pm

Jon. just read your review of Bite. Ok I understand your comments, but I don’t know why you didn’t try their soups as well. They are full flavored, lush and wonderful, and available every day, I love the lobster roll, their soups(varies daily) and I have had the double. It was delicious. Also love the flatbreads, and you trashed the pasta with meat sauce, When I had it the meat was fork tender, the pasta done well, and finished every Bite. This restaurant deserves more than 1 star and my husband and I have been fans since it opened. Thanks for the review, but we’ll still be going back.

gunga din

March 31st, 2013
7:08 pm

I think it is hilarious that these restaurants try to pass off pork belly as a delicacy. same stuff Granny Clampett used to cook (along with possum) on the Beverly Hillbillies)