At the bottom of the lengthy cocktail menu at Bistro 197 are the words “Drink alcohol. Because no great story ever started with a salad.”
While that tongue-in-cheek sentiment is largely true, that does not mean a great meal cannot start with a salad, just as ours did at the Oswego restaurant on an early Saturday evening.
The seasonal cocktail menu, filled with colorful one-liners describing the cleverly named drinks— “Strawberry Fields Forever,” “I’ll Have What She’s Having” and “The Donkey Punch”—among many others, is a prelude of what’s to come: Brilliant dishes crafted in a place that doesn’t take itself too seriously.
The fried goat cheese salad ($13) was a well-dressed blend of crisp greens, fresh blueberries and strawberries, candied pecans, pickled onions and two balls of warm fried goat cheese. The salad was fresh and vibrant with the right amount of zip from the blueberry port vinaigrette. With a greens-to-berries ratio bordering on 50-50, the salad would be substantial enough as a light entrée.
As a child, I was squeamish around raw oysters, but as an adult, I’ve come to love the flavor of the ocean locked between two shells, ready to be shucked. That night, the oysters ($3 each) came from the Pacific Northwest. Served with a classic mignonette, the oysters were fresh and paired beautifully with our “My My Amaro” cocktail ($9), a blend of amaro, gin, fresh lime, cucumber, sugar syrup and ginger beer perfect for a summer evening.
Like the cocktail list, the dinner menu changes seasonally, but Bistro 197 always has a variation of seared duck breast on the menu. This time, the duck came with an Asian hoisin pan sauce, mashed potatoes and summer vegetables, a mix of green and yellow squash and red peppers.
The duck ($20) is served medium-rare by default and for good reason. The perfectly cooked meat is tender and the fatty, succulent skin simply melts in your mouth. The chef used a heavy hand of salt and pepper in the mashed potatoes, which might turn off some diners, but I thought the potatoes were nicely seasoned.
The same vegetables, plus eggplant, came along side the black grouper ($22), a special that evening. In both cases, the vegetables were tender, but with a bit of bite, like a properly cooked al dente pasta. Had the vegetables been cooked for a few seconds in either direction, such perfection would have been impossible.
Browned butter clung to the crisp crust on the grouper filet and the whipped goat cheese and chive mousse perched on top of the fish began to slowly melt, like a scoop of vanilla ice cream on a warm brownie. The sweet balsamic vinegar and herb oil on the plate tied the dish together.
After cleaning our plates after each course, we had to somehow find room for the snickerdoodle crème brûlée ($7). The downfalls of a poorly made crème brûlée—grainy, undercooked sugar crust or lumpy, curdled egg custard—were nowhere to be seen. Not only was the burnt sugar crust crisp and thin, but the cool custard was silky, rich and with just the right amount of sweetness.
At first, I figured the snickerdoodle simply meant there was cinnamon in the custard, but this dessert perfectly encapsulated all the components of the classic cookie, down to that classic snickerdoodle tang from the cream of tartar.
Bistro 197 opened in 2011 and in 2013, doubled in size to offer both a main dining room and a hip, but comfortable lounge area, complete with exposed brick walls and chic metal décor.
That night’s musician—there’s live music every Thursday, Friday and Saturday night—had just wrapped up his first song as the evening as we finished dessert. We were the only diners in the dining room when we sat down, but both the dining room and lounge began to fill with vibrancy and excitement as the night went on.
The restaurant was bustling by the time we left, but we still felt like we were let in on a little secret: That some of the best fine dining and cocktails in all of Central New York can be found in downtown Oswego.
Address: 197 W. First St., Oswego, N.Y, 13126
Phone: (315) 343-2930
- Monday: 4:00 p.m. – 9:00 p.m.
- Tuesday to Thursday: 11:30 a.m. – 3:00 p.m., 5:00 p.m. – 9:00 p.m.
- Friday and Saturday: 11:30 a.m. – 3:00 p.m., 5:00 p.m. – 10:00 p.m.