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CJ's Bistro

For her first restaurant venture, Yasmeen Stroud is off to a good start.

The foodie moved to the area two months ago from Northern California and opened CJ's Bistro in the space that was formerly Red Hibiscus.

In California, Stroud taught Indian cooking at a local food co-op, and before that she worked inside and outside kitchens at several New York restaurants.

Stroud says she loves food and wanted to see her original and family recipes utilized.

The new eatery is barely two weeks old and relatively unannounced — I couldn't find anything about it online — as Stroud waits for her liquor license and continues to make minor changes to the menu. She's planning a grand opening once everything is set.

However, that didn't keep my husband and I from enjoying an intriguing and satisfying dinner there last weekend. While other restaurants, such as Amuse next door, scrambled to seat waiting customers on a Saturday night during tourist season, Sean and I were ushered into an empty dining room and had our server's exclusive attention until two other parties arrived much later in the evening.

At the bistro, you get an almost-fine-dining experience — large windows overlooking the street, fresh sprigs of flowers on each table, linen tablecloths and interesting art — but without the price tag. None of the dishes cost more than $12.

The brief, Indian-inspired menu is suited for lunch or dinner with four stews, four sandwiches, five hamburgers and two salads. There also are two sides, a kale and cabbage slaw ($3.50) and grilled, mixed vegetables ($6.50), as well as a small kids' menu.

Stroud and her chef, Robert DeVries, who also is from New York, make all the sauces, dressings, jalapeno relish, stews and spice mixes from scratch. They also trim the meat and chop the vegetables, so even if the menu isn't extensive, the labor is, she says.

Without the option of appetizers or wine, Sean and I cut right to the chase.

He ordered the "landslide" stew ($11.50), which we were told was very popular. So popular, in fact, that someone ordering after us was told there was none left. I decided on the turkey sub kebab ($8.25) and tacked on an order of sweet-potato steak fries for $2.75.

Even if it isn't cold enough for a cardigan, the hearty beef stew hit the spot. The dish touted tender bites of carrots, red potatoes, kidney beans and onions with small, pan-seared meatballs in a thick, tomato-based gravy. The dish came with two slices of multigrain baguette. Sean would have liked more bread but finished his meal before he could ask.

Stroud says she was betting on the stew finding favor with men but was pleasantly surprised that it is appreciated by both genders. I'll attest to that.

On the sandwich, Stroud adds cilantro, green chilies, onion and Indian spices to the lean, ground turkey to keep it from tasting dry. Along with the oblong turkey patty, there were thick slices of tomato and shredded romaine lettuce, dressed in a cilantro-lime yogurt sauce — housemade, of course. All this on a multigrain sub roll, which I thought one of the better ones I've had: soft and chewy, rather than tough and dry. A small cucumber salad came on the side, and more sauce is available on request.

Other thoughtful entrees tempt a second visit, including a mango barbecue-chicken sandwich, black-bean and brown-rice sandwich, portobello-mushroom burger, chicken curry with rice and tandoori chicken salad with grilled tomatoes and toasted naan.

Stroud says the entrees may change with the seasons, and she hopes to add soups, dinner specials and desserts in the future.

I was secretly disappointed our visit came before Stroud rolled out her dessert menu. But there are other places in Ashland for that.

— Teresa Thomas

CJ's Bistro