By Curt Peterson
Word has spread across Windsor about Bistro Midva (Slovenian for “the two of us”), a newly-opened dinner spot along Route 5. Saturday, chef and co-owner Chad Lumbra arranged an outdoor dining table below the sidewalk with a view of the totally-renovated restaurant, which accommodates 25 diners.
Lumbra shuns being “tied down by cuisine,” but pressed, he said Midva’s menu has “French countryside vibes.”
The chosen starters — fries with “brava sauce,” salmon gravlax with spicy greens, pickled fennel and shaved radish salad, and pork country terrine (paté) had us talking about the flavors and presentation.
Then came the entrees.
Braised beef cheeks (to die for); grilled shrimp with a delicate taste of crispy chicken skin; spinach, broccoli rabe, pesto salad; and roasted red bream (a.k.a. porgies), all gluten-free. The other entrees sounded equally wonderful.
Our crowd was made up of diners from unadventurous to chronic complainers to “he never met a meal he didn’t like,” yet sincere raves were unanimous.
Excellent coffee, crème brulée with sea salt, and chocolate biscotti sealed the deal, and the tab was surprisingly affordable for the excellence of the meal.
“There’s a problem with this crème brulée ,” Hartland diner Carol Stedman told Lumbra. “It should be five times as big — it’s wonderful!”
But who in their right mind would open a new eatery in the middle of a pandemic?
Lumbra, recently chef at Elixir in White River Junction, and his wife, Arlanda Erzen, decided the time was right.
“It worked to our advantage,” Lumbra told the Mountain Times. “The pandemic that closed so many other restaurants flooded the market with affordable equipment and fixtures. Their misfortune became our good fortune.”
Lumbra and Erzen have been working since January to open Bistro Midva, which officially welcomed diners two weeks ago. The bargains enabled them to open debt-free, self-financed from savings.
One might think other restaurateurs, struggling with Covid restrictions, would be unwelcoming to competition, but Lumbra found the opposite true.
“The Upper Valley restaurants have been very supportive,” Lumbra said. “John and Stacy Capurso [owners of Windsor Station Restaurant] reached out to us and offered anything they could provide to help us get started.”
Midva is also free from staffing challenges facing other establishments — Lumbra is chef with one kitchen helper, Lumbra’s mother and Erzen are servers.
Demands on servers are significantly increased by Covid — all staff are masked; tables, chairs and menus are sanitized between seatings; spacing is carefully observed—but its all done unobtrusively.
Lumbra grew up in Vermont and attended high school in Hanover before training at the Culinary Institute of America in California. He learned a lot about “farm-to-table” management working at the Brothers Moon Restaurant in Hopewell Township, New Jersey, a pioneer in localvore food sourcing.
“Cooks were required to work one full day per month on a nearby farm,” Lumbra said.
He traveled to Slovenia, the small central European country on the Adriatic Sea bordered by Italy, Austria, Hungary and Croatia, where he met Erzen (“Air-JEN”), who was working as a server there, her home country.
“When I moved back to the U.S., Erzen stayed behind. We visited, and kept up our relationship via Skype, but finally realized we couldn’t stay separated,” Lumbra said.
Erzen works as a translator and as a grant officer at Dartmouth College when she isn’t serving at Midva.
“She has been my inspiration,” Lumbra said. “When I felt opening Midva might be too risky, she told me, ‘Don’t let fear of failing hold you back. It’s only a business —if it fails, it fails, we will go on with life. Just do it.’”