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Review: Blue Smoke

January 19, 2009

It’s Winter Restaurant Week(s) here in NYC. That means that some fancy-pants restaurants are having 3-course prix fixe menus for the next week or so. Reservations fill up quick, but its a great opportunity to check out restaurants that you would have never thought to, or had the cash to try for non-major-special-event reasons.

Given that Frank isn’t really the fancy-pants foodie type, and he was my date this week, I wanted to pick a restaurant that he would feel comfortable in, and that we could both enjoy the food. Ever since reading “Setting the Table” I have been really interested in trying more of the restaurants in Danny Meyer’s Union Square Hospitality Group.  I have already been to Tabla (which was amazing, and apparently offers a regular, cheaper than Restaurant Week lunch) and was blown away by their service.

So, Frank and I settled on Blue Smoke mainly because it was casual, fit my criteria and none of the other restaurants in the group had an open reservation until February. The added bonus is I am no longer a vegetarian and I haven’t had barbecue in years. So, we were super excited.

We walk in, early for the lunch reservation and they were able to seat us right away. We were probably one of the first few people in the restaurant for the day. The maitre’d/seater person seemed to have a hard time pulling his eyes away from the game on the TV over the bar, but no biggie. We were seated on the upstairs  level in the balcony, and had a great view of the place.

Frank and I decided to figure out dishes we could share, so that we could sample everything. I did this with caution, as Frank, despite being the love of my life, is not the best food-sharer.

For an appetizer, we ordered the beef cheeks with corn grits and mushrooms and chipotle chicken wings with creamy blue cheese. The food came quickly, along with awesome super absorbent napkins and a bucket for the bones. While the menu suggested a beer pairing for $12, Frank doesn’t drink, and I know that I couldn’t possibly make it through three beers. The waitress suggested a “Rogue Dead Guy Ale” which was kind of like a less bitter IPA and was really good.

I ordered the cheeks because you can’t turn on Food Network or watch Top Chef without hearing about beef cheeks and I wanted to know what the fuss was all about. As it turns out? Nothing. Unless these were horribly cooked or something, I found them extremely bland and fatty. The grits and mushrooms? Really, really good. I am new to the world of grits, but these shocked me with a really deep flavor – and an odd blue color that I can only assume was from blue corn.

I ended up giving up my whole plate of cheeks to Frank, since even one bite of the wings sent him diving for his diet Coke (no ice, lemon given to me.) The wings were a standout – nice big pieces, and the meat was cooked really well. It was spicy, but I am a known spice weenie. The bleu cheese was really great – fresh and tangy. Frank ended up smearing it on his (beef) cheeks. You can’t take us anywhere.

Apparently, I eat very slowly. I was trying to take my time and let my mouth cool down, but evidently I was super slow, because the food runner came out with our main course while I was still gnawing on chicken. He looked really embarrassed, but I asked him to just put the plates down- it’s not a big deal to me, and I was on my last delicious display of savagery (they gave me really thick, soft wet-naps, bless their souls). I am really only noting it because I was hyper-aware of the service, and I think he got points for looking concerned that he “messed up.”

For our entrees, Frank I ordered the brisket sloppy joe on a brioche bun and I got Kansas City spare ribs with collard greens. Both were really good, and the ribs were very tender (Frank thought a bit too mushy) but neither was really “Oh my god, we need to come back here.” We each remember some roadside stand that made it a bit better (and much cheaper.) The collard greens were a standout though. Really well-seasoned and tender. Yum.

Of course, it almost goes without saying that dessert is generally my highlight of any meal, but at this point I was stuffed and just wanted to go home and crawl into bed. I am glad I didn’t. A Key Lime Pie is what I ordered, and while the pie part was really, almost perfect (tangy, condensed milk sweetness, and lip-puckering tart) the graham cracker crust almost ruined it. It was so hard, and impossible to get through. But it was the perfect end to my meal. Frank’s Grasshopper brownie sundae with mint ice cream was of course, to die for – but after that meal, I thought it was just a bit too much. Didn’t stop us from practically licking the plate clean.

Our waitress was really nice, and her and I shared a high-five over being ex-vegetarians but it took forever to get a check, which was surprising given that the rest of our meal came out in rapid succession.

With the prix fixe prices, a beer, two diet cokes and tip – the meal came out to about $80. And we got some free candies (which I am saving for tonight!) after our meal.

Was it good? Yes. Was it worth it? Probably not.

I was a little disappointed. Not in the food, which was good – but I think that in the future, I wouldn’t try to go upscale for what should be more downscale food. If it was all like the beef cheeks in terms of fanciness, or they were really interesting and unique rubs on the ribs it may be worth it, but trying to go high end without offering any added twist just wasn’t worth it. And maybe my expectations were too high for service, but I was kind of hoping to be wow’ed. I wasn’t. The service was good, and I don’t know what else I could have expected, but somehow it seemed a letdown. But, I am still excited to try some of his other restaurants.

I did notice that a lot of the stuff on the menu looked great, and I could definitely see myself going there for a happy hour to sample their beer selection and get platters of appetizers. It seems like it would be a really nice place to relax, and pick on good food. Also of note: Frank was an excellent food-sharer this time around. Old dogs = learning new tricks.

And now, it’s definitely naptime.

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. January 19, 2009 7:34 pm

    Beef cheeks taste like meatbread but not good.

    So about the chocolate treats they gave us…

    I kind of left them on the table at the restaurant. LUV U!

  2. Adam permalink
    January 19, 2009 8:22 pm

    Thanks for the review, Erica. Sounds like it’s worth trying.

    Donette, bein’ from Texas and all, loves her BBQ and Tex-Mex. We’ve given up on Tex-Mex in NYC, but there are some good BBQ places.

    We’ve been to Hill Country and Rub. Hill Country is nothing to rave about. They try to do the classics, but their take on things like baked beans just doesn’t cut it. It’s OK, but not a place we’d recommend–especially if you’re from Texas.

    Rub (http://www.rubbbq.net/), however, is really good. We’ve been a few times, and always want to go back for more. Try the BBQ Chili Cheese Fries. Then, get the Brisket and the Sausages. They’ll tell you the Burnt Ends are the best, but we didn’t think so.

    Skip the fried Oreos, but try the cobbler. And don’t forget a Shiner Bock to wash it all down.

  3. January 26, 2009 9:08 pm

    I love restaurant week! Last week I went to Matsugen, and Wednesday I’m going to Town, and then Craft Bar for lunch on Friday. 🙂

  4. Stormy permalink
    January 28, 2009 6:10 pm

    Strangely, Hill Country was really good when it first opened, and seems to have gone downhill since they changed pit masters. I used to think RUB was mediocre at best, but they have drastically improved recently. Dinosaur BBQ is pretty good, but good luck actually getting in there. Blue Smoke is pretty good, too, but as you note rather expensive.

    Still, fast food BBQ in the South is much better.

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