Mint Bistro has emerged from behind its plywood facade as an eatery much different than it once was. Since the restaurant closed last August, the space has been gutted down to the bricks and the menu revamped entirely. The second incarnation of Mint boasts smoke-colored walls, a glowing red ceiling and a sleek black bar where guests can enjoy a sake-based libation or watch sushi chef John Lu at work.
Mint Bistro owner Roi Shpindler said the restaurant’s soft opening, held the last week of July, drew more customers than anticipated, leaving his staff to learn the food and drink menus under fire.
“All in all, we’ve got great feedback about this new menu,” he said. As the size of the bar has been doubled in Mint part deux, two additional bartenders were hired on to the staff of 20. Shpindler has hired a second sushi chef to keep up with the demand.
When Shpindler bought the building that now houses both the Bridge Cafe (which he opened five years ago) and Mint, the narrow dining room of the Bistro still had the look of the now defunct Baldwin’s restaurant. He told himself he would keep Mint Bistro open for a year as it was, make money and then reopen it as the eatery he had always wanted it to be — a restaurant with a lounge-like feel that offered sushi and tapas and catered to young professionals.
“We were very, very busy and didn’t shut down because we were not doing well,” Shpindler said. “We shut down because we wanted to renovate.”
Shpindler was only planning for a six- month renovation of the space — that was the estimate he was given by a contractor — but the doors remained closed for nearly nine months, as progress slowed.
While all is new at the restaurant, Shpindler opted to keep the Mint Bistro moniker as the eatery has already made a name for itself in the community. “It would be a shame to lose [the name] now,” he said. “We had a lot of loyal customers at Mint.”
In addition to the new dishes, the Mint menu will feature new prices that are “reasonable for today’s economy,” Shpindler said. “For customers that came in here before and saw our old high price points, a lot of those have been cut down to half,” he said.
Shpindler will lead the charge in the kitchen — he also designed most of the menu — and cook alongside the bistro’s new executive chef, Steven Shoemaker, and assistant head chef, Todd Somma. Lu, the restaurant’s executive sushi chef, worked for 10 years behind New York sushi bars before relocating to the Granite State to work at Mint.
Shpindler said diners have already posted rave reviews online about Lu’s sushi. The Elm St. Maki (spicy crab, cream cheese, scallion, tempura fried and ponzu) was one of only a few items from the restaurant’s formerly limited sushi menu to make the cut, as Shpindler noted he wanted to start with a clean slate. The Boss roll (tempura shrimp, tuna, spicy tuna, avocado and three kinds of caviar) has already emerged as a customer favorite. For those looking to taste a variety of sushi offerings, and share with others, Mint Bistro now offers sushi boats that feed up to four customers, including a “Love Boat for 2.”
“It’s a beautiful presentation,” Shpindler said of the wooden boats, complete with a mast and sails, that the sushi is served on. All sushi boats are also served with soup and salad, with the soup served in black and red bowls with wide-mouthed spoons.
Sushi hours will be extended until midnight at Mint Thursday through Saturday, when the restaurant is open until last call, Shpindler said.
“It’s something light to eat so it goes along well with beer and wine … and the only place to go [and eat at that time] is the hot dog guy and the [Puritan] Backroom,” Shpindler said.
Sushi also played a role in the development of Mint’s new drink list as it now boasts a handful of sake-based drinks including the Japanese Sake Mojito and Sake Martini (Stoli vodka, house sake, Domaine de Canton and fresh lemon, garnished with candied ginger). Guests can also opt to order warm sake.
Appetizers at the new 75-seat Mint include charred octopus carpaccio served with chickpeas, radish, shaved asparagus salad and celery-endive vinaigrette, forever braised short rib served with warm polenta flat bread, fava, gremolata and natural pan juices, and fire-roasted eggplant fritters battered with gluten-free tempura and served with house smoked mozzarella, lemon aioli and marinara sauce.
Among a handful of sandwich offerings are the Panini Medianoche (a classic Cuban with tender braised pork, sliced ham, manchego, mustard and pickle, served on a baguette) and the Croque Mint (speck prosciutto, gruyere, cranberry-mint béchamel and fried egg).
Shpindler anticipates the Bistro’s Potato Encrusted North Atlantic Cod (served with whipped cauliflower, sauteed spinach and a warm tomato chive vinaigrette) and the Lobster Ravioli (which sits in a lobster bisque and boasts a piece of Maine lobster tail on each pasta pouch) will be popular entrees.
While he has not ruled it out completely, Shpindler said he is too busy at the Bridge Cafe to offer lunch at Mint anytime soon.
“I would rather have really great dinner service here,” he said.