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Single Pebble, A (Barre VT)
||135 Barre-Montpelier Road,|
Barre, VT 05641
Reviewed by: Jacqueline M. Newman
Spring Volume: 2002 Issue: 9(1) page: 15 and 29
'A Single Pebble' makes a big splash in central Vermont with Chinese culinary gems. Titled for a John Hershey book, this restaurant can be found in what many consider an Asian-barren food region. Should you not live in the region, you have to drive miles to get there, but eating Chinese food in Barre, Vermont is a pebble you want to seek out because when found, it uncovers large true Chinese food rewards.
It also uncovers a special surprise. Steve Bogart, the chef-owner is Caucasian and a much better Chinese chef than you find at most restaurants offering Chinese food. He calls his place 'my own little China' and we recommend you make a trip there to make it yours as you enjoy real Chinese food in his and his partner Phil Gentile’s lovely spot a few blocks from a main highway. It is tucked into a place you might never see if you were not out to find it. Yes, there is a sign. It is off the road, and worth discovering. Leave your car and note the unassuming exterior. Enter this calming and lovely place and Phil--the genial host will greet you as soon as you cross the threshold. You know immediately that he cares. The staff of young delightful waitresses do, too. You settle in knowing you are in good hands. The tables are well-spaced, the decor simple yet authentic, and the cloths and nappery are crisp and spotless.
For those that know the Green Mountains during the Fall spectacular leaf display or during winter’s wonderful ski season, checking out A Single Pebble is reason to enjoy every season in Vermont and eat Chinese food worthy of any fine Chinatown. Yes, dining at Bogart’s 'Little China' recalls tastes from a now defunct China Moon restaurant in Warren, Vermont that we enjoyed some years ago. Others may recall his authentic tastes from Chinese meals he catered in New York, New England, and at many functions thereabouts.
Many do know of this little China, a deserved popularity that requires reservations on most week-ends but easier to get drop-in access during most days of the week. Do not go on Sunday because Steve and Phil adore spending time with their families as well as spending time helping you delight in authentic Chinese food. Their popularity is in no small part to having won a spot as one of the ten best in Vermont magazine in 1998. They shared Steve’s ‘Little China’ with many who learned of them there.
We did, too, and enjoyed their food, their clever menu approach, and a sophisticated dining experience. The menu lists dishes as small, medium, or big. Because of that, groups of any size can sample many dishes just as a big Chinese family might. Our group of eleven sampled seventeen dishes and our bill was nowhere near what it might have been in any other Chinese restaurant.
Even with that, ordering was no easy task. Many dishes command your attention as they do for the almost seven hundred folk who eat at this seventeen table restaurant in a good week. And, good your week will be when you are one of them.
Bogart was smitten by things Chinese before he was ten; he remains smitten. He visited China in 1986, again in 1994, and keeps close, reading their newspaper in Chinese, learning all he can elsewhere; and as to their cuisine, he reads Chinese recipes in and from China at every chance imaginable.
All of these efforts impact the cooking he does there. For example, the kitchen staff have Chinese-type assignments. One lady does nothing but make noodles and noodle dishes. He does nothing but see to it that every dish is prepared and garnished according to his high standards which include making everything from scratch. Many items are named classically correct, and that means lots of things called ordinary, even boring names, such as Chicken Dumplings with Spicy Sesame Sauce or Double Garlic Eggplant. Then there are those that come with stories such as Chop Your Head Off Soup. At A Single Pebble, its chef does a superb job of preparing all of them. That last recipe got its name from one chef’s less than stellar performance combining minced pork, noodles, cabbage, ginger, scallions, and more goodies in an excellent broth.
What great dishes are hidden finds at A Single Pebble? We say 'all' so try them all. Our favorites in the small dish category include Mock Eel made classically correct by braising shiitake mushrooms in a ginger sauce and rolling them in a sheet of seaweed. Be sure to try the Watercress Salad and/or the Fresh Nappa. Both are cool in temperature but piquant as you consume them. The Dry Fried String Beans in the medium dishes are fire flavored accompanied by flecks of hand chopped pork, black beans, preserved mustard green, and oodles of garlic. The Ma Po Bean Cake is another item listed there that is big on flavor as are Single Pebble Crab Cakes. Seasoned a mite closer to Thai or Indonesian food with cilantro and lemongrass, their shallot peanut sauce brings them back to China in a flash of good taste.
Do not overlook the page with noodle and vegetarian dishes. Items there have no indication of size. We found the Ants Climbing Tree a large and a classic mix of cellophane noodles with bits of pork making believe they are the insects therein. Copper Well Noodles is another big item. It intrigues with typical lo mein noodles topped with a reddish-copper flavorful sauce that said it has chili sauce. We did want ours somewhat hotter, but most in Vermont might not. Orange Taste Bean Cake was better than expected, we adored its well-flavored yet mild garlic sauce.
Among those named 'Big Dishes' of the menu, Ocean Wealth Chow Fun was the only one that disappointed. Loaded with delicious shrimp, squid, scallops, and mussels, we missed the usual fired-over taste and white pepper that most chow fun dishes come with, but we adored the wide rice noodles underneath all these goodies. Sesame Catfish, Steel Pot Sha Cha Beef, Red Pine Chicken, and Crispy Scallions were all yummy with the two pots, one each, of delicious Jasmine and Green teas ordered. A son-in-law was pleased to taste Trout River Rainbow Red, a beer brewed nearby; he pronounced it excellent with Chinese food. He should know, he has eaten as much if not more Chinese food that most during his career managing many a Chinese restaurant.
Seek out this pebble, nay, this solid rock of authentic Chinese food in the middle of the Green Mountain State. Dine elegantly and authentically any Tuesday through Saturday evening from five to nine in one of their four rooms. And, after your meal, enjoy a cool dessert of Mango Passion or Pear Sorbet or Ginger Ice Cream. Enjoy many Chinese foods, each a lovely marriage of flavors and tastes without an added drop of MSG. And, if rumors are true, this pebble may sprout offspring elsewhere in New England--stay tuned.