Easy upscale: Isa’s Bistro opens with a relaxed yet refined menu and atmosphere

Yummy isn't really a technical term, but it applies to Isa's Bistro.

New American, ingredient-driven and destination dining might be more appropriate ways to describe it. The restaurant, which opened Monday in Haywood Park, is all of those things. But mostly, it's just delicious, in both food and atmosphere.

“The street is inside,” says Isa Fraga as she shows off the dining room. She co-owns the restaurant with her husband, Tony Fraga, a well-known businessman who manages Haywood Park and Westgate Shopping Center. Floor-to-ceiling windows provide views of Haywood Street and Battery Park Avenue and lend the space a very happening feel.

The updates to the building, which used to house Restaurant Solace, and before that, Flying Frog Café, are nothing short of remarkable. The dining room, which used to be, in a word, awkward, now feels airy and soft.

The Fragas selected art from their home to warm up the space. Paintings of the forest by Lynn Boggess keep the urban views feeling fresh. A hand-carved wooden dragon sits above the bar as a good-luck charm. “This is an extension of our home,” Isa says. “We want this to be casual dining. Very relaxed. Tourists can come in in their shorts.”

Chef Duane Fernandes has created a menu that balances rich and fresh flavors. It's not exactly comfort food, but it's certainly comfortable food. Shaved radishes set off a filet of Sorrels Creek Trout, which languishes in ham hock broth and polenta. The “Melting Mozzarella Toast” makes for a low-key snack, but it's enlivened with a touch of mint. Pickled celery hearts, kimchi and Vidalia onions bring complexity to ham croquettes, chicken sandwiches and burgers, respectively.

Fernandes left Horizon's at the Grove Park Inn to work at Isa's. Before that, he spent time at Gabrielle's at the Richmond Hill Inn — where he first met the Fragas — as well as Thomas Keller's Per Se in New York City.

A word of advice from the chef: Save room for dessert. “We're not going to think of desserts as sort of an after thought,” he says. “We're really going to push desserts.” Look for miniature cakes and pies, petit fours, house-made truffles and more.

If you visit Isa's, be sure to check out the cellar. The event space below Restaurant Solace had a reputation for feeling musty and stuffy. But the new design plays to the strengths of the windowless space. It's been transformed into a wine-centric event hall with accommodations for wedding receptions, large parties, dancing, lounging and overflow seating. Wine barrels, recessed lighting and a brick fireplace (still in the works) make for an intimate, romantic atmosphere.

Isa's Bistro, 1 Battery Park Ave., opens Monday through Saturday from 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. for lunch and dinner and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. for brunch and dinner. Extended bar hours could be in the works. Lunch ranges in price from $7 to $16, and dinner runs $7 to $28.  For more information, visit isasbistro.com.


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