Aurelius Ambrosius, known to English-speaking Catholics as St. Ambrose, is the fourth-century archbishop who gave us the "When in Rome, do as the Romans do."
Sadly, ecclesiastical history is silent on what to do when in Forest Hills, at a bar and restaurant known as Roman Bistro 33, but I expect that St. Ambrose, as a devoted ascetic, would have avoided the beer list.
Too bad. It's a nice lineup of taps, 33 draft beers in all, plus a reserve supply of bottles available for takeout at the attached bottleshop (and 33 wines as well, which is why they come by the "33" part of the name). Also, it sells a variety of cigars -- and here again, St. Ambrose probably would have abstained, despite the live-and-let-live nature of his enduring advice. Not exactly practicing what we're preaching, are we now?
At Roman Bistro, they certainly practice it. In fact, it's the restaurant's unofficial motto. And in fact, if you visit the restaurant's website, you are "treated" (read: not a treat) to a constantly looping video of customers, bartenders and public address announcers urging the viewer to WHEN IN ROMAN'S, DO AS THE ROMANS DO. They say it loudly, so I assume they're being earnest about it.
It's easy to poke fun at the website, but far more difficult to do so at the expense of the restaurant itself, which is a handsome re-do of the former Bacchus restaurant space, which itself was built in a former Studebaker showroom. Frankly, I would have rather seen the new restaurant called "Studebaker's," maybe with a 1951 Starlight Coupe suspended from the ceiling, but when your name is Michael Roman, and when you own the place, well, that's a no-brainer.
Also a no-brainer: the beet salad ($18), supple slivers of red and golden beets, on a foundation of baby arugula, goat cheese and dressed in a lemon vinaigrette. Mine also came topped with a warm salmon filet (absent the salmon, the beet salad is $8). For the entree-sized price, you get an entree-sized salad, in a deep bowl.
Generous portions are the rule here. Check out the pork osso buco -- not a traditional osso buco (that is, it's not veal), but at $20, it's a nice value over the more expensive veal shank, and you're likely to have leftovers to carry home with you.
The menu, as the restaurant name would seem to imply, has Italian and Sicilian overtones -- lots of prosciutto, mozzarella, ravioli and the like, plus burgers, seafood appetizers (steamed clam and crabcakes, scallops and PEI mussels), a burger and sandwich board, plus seven or eight desserts on a given night. As a result, this is not a "bistro" menu in its original, stripped-down sense. If anything, it's more a brasserie, but then, we're already co-mingling our French and Italian, so there's no point getting hung up on an etymology technicality.
For a decadent treat, try the bistro burger ($12), angus topped by pork belly (in America, we also call this "bacon") and a fried egg, plus cheese and coleslaw. Get a side of the suddenly ubiquitous poutine ($9, served Jersey- or Italian-style, with mozzarella instead of cheddar curd). Wash it down with a Full Pint White Lightning.
Also, loosen your belt beforehand. Did I mention that? I meant to mention that.
Aurelius Ambrosius also would have avoided the gelato, since it hadn't been invented yet. But I say go for it.
With its spacious bar and stacks of wine bottles, it's a surprisingly elegant space, and I say that in spite of the flat-screen TVs that occupy nearly every sight line in the main hall. Seriously -- look in any direction, and there's a Penguins game on the television. Not saying that's a bad thing -- the most important rule in business is to know your customers, after all -- but it makes it tough to know what kind of vibe the place is going for. Sports bar and beer hall? Mature suburban restaurant? Cruise-ship piano lounge?
Right. There's a piano, an ivory-white, Fletcher & Son baby grand, occupying prime real estate on the bar floor. Say, I wonder if they know how to play the Penguins theme song?
Roman Bistro 33 is at 2104 Ardmore Blvd. (Route 30), Forest Hills; 412-871-3704 and www.romanbistro.com. Open seven days.
Bill Toland: firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @btoland_pg.