Full review with pictures in blog. Text as below.
The Gist: No Website – located near the Merchandise Mart, near Gilt Bar.
The Why: Dinner plans at EL Ideas with Rich (windyfoodie) but having spent a full day wandering the city with my sister I wasn’t about to abandon her and send her home hungry; besides, what’s wrong with a little pre-dinner? Already impressed by Brendan Sodikoff as a restaurateur and with plans for Au Cheval the day following I’d be foolish to say that impressive reviews of both the space and the food weren’t a part of my decision regarding a visit to Bavettes, but in reality I chose the swanky spot for two reasons – Erika’s love of meatloaf and mine of brandade.
The Reservation: Make one. We made ours for the 5:00pm opening time and the bar was filled by 5:20pm with the tables jammed by 5:45pm; the wait for a 4-top when we left at 6:35 was “maybe an hour and a half” while reservations were filled for later than 9:00 (on a Thursday.)
The Space: Swanky is the only word that does this space justice – something I’d realize the following day that Sodikoff does quite well. Antique mirrors and fixtures, brick walls, red leather, and dark wood from wall to wall with a beautiful bar 2-3 deep with beautiful people as smooth jazz filters overhead – it’s a great place to see and be seen, but also the sort of place where a low table in the corner could serve quite admirably for those wanting to disappear into the background.
The Service: Aside from a truly rude male hostess who seemed to love his role as gatekeeper (we had the chance to watch this jackass try to act cool while turning people away and asking ‘is your whole party present’ to couples arriving for a two-top multiple times during the evening given our choice of seats near the front) and his colleague who was theoretically the coat-check (or more appropriately a woman who literally threw my sister’s coat at her) the team of servers at Bavette’s couldn’t have been better. From the guys at the bar chatting up the clientele to the runners who wiped down our table after every course and refilled water glasses with a near-invisible hand everything was smooth – our primary server Erik included as he quickly realized we didn’t need to be walked through the menu and adapted on the fly from dumbing things down to talking about sourcing and preparations.
The Food and Drink: House bread and butter, two appetizers, two mains, one dessert, one coffee, house filtered water - $90 after tax and tip.
House Bread and Salted Butter: Fluffy on the interior with a hearty crust this was French table bread at its best and served up warm with whipped butter topped with fleur de sel you’d be hard pressed to ask for better – were it not for the later dinner reservations more than one basket would have been necessary.
Peppered Duck and Goat Cheese Terrine with Apricot Mustard and Toast: As my sister does enjoy the texture of foie gras I passed on the pure foie torchon and opted for this – a tough choice on one hand, but at the same time perhaps a good call as this terrine was outstanding and enjoyable to the both of us. According to Erik also sporting some foie intermingled with rough cut and pressed roast duck plus chunks of funky chevre this terrine was at once smooth and meaty, peppery but balanced, and entirely spreadable on the lightly charred bread. Hefty to be sure but nicely tempered by the sweetness of the apricot spread and served in ample portion this is definitely a dish to share.
Salt Cod Brandade with Malt Vinegar Chips: Plain and simple, I love brandade – if it were on every menu I’d order it everywhere I went and with not a single spot in my prior or current home offering it on the daily menu it has sort of become a “destination” dish…and this one is without a doubt worth the trip. Served as a play on “fish and chips” and entirely rich with cod at the fore while olive oil, garlic, and chives played a backup role the brandade was lightly browned at the top and still bubbly at the bottom while the chips proved a clever delivery mechanism – the vinegar and dearth of salt helping to cut the potency of the dried fish; a turn-off to my sister on her previous brandade experiences.
Black Label Meat Loaf with Mushroom Jus, Mashed Potatoes: Erika’s main course – or at least half of it as the rest went home to her roommate – this blend of beef and porkbelly certainly isn’t mom’s meatloaf, but no matter what nostalgia you have for childhood memories this is a damned good meatloaf, particularly when paired with chunky Yukon gold mash, whole roasted mushrooms, and a gravy of pan jus, woodsy mushrooms, and balsamic vinegar adding just enough sweetness to temper the fat. Listed as a meatloaf but very low on filler and more like the sorts of terrines served on French bistro menus this was another hefty dish that could most certainly be shared as an entrée by most couples.
Southern Style Fried Chicken with Buttermilk Ranch and Crystal Hot Sauce: Another dish made for sharing I realize it is a bit skewed to call a $17 plate of chicken a ‘deal’ when places like KFC can feed a family of four for half of that but in the world of fine dining this dish is a steal – 6 pieces of organic chicken double fried to a golden brown with crunchy coating giving way to juicy bird. Lightly salted and paired with house ranch plus the same $1 bottle of Crystal you can pick up at Wal-Mart this was no-frills American cooking with top notch ingredients yielding a top notch dish, half of this also going home in a doggie bag.
Chocolate Cream Pie: Skipping dessert after such a hefty meal may seem like the right thing to do but you’d be a fool to miss out on this dish – a signature according to Erik, especially when paired with a bottomless cup of La Colombe’s Corsica. More a chocolate pave than a ‘chocolate cream’ and resting atop an Oreo crust with a dollop of whipped cream nearly the size of the slice plus grated nutmeg this, much like the chicken, was simply what happens when a great kitchen uses great ingredients. Sure you could make this at home, but since you probably won’t I’d recommend it without hesitation.
The Verdict: While I can’t say I fancy the too-cool-for-you front door shtick at Bavette’s any more than I do at The Aviary there isn’t much to quibble once you make it past those doors, just some really excellent French-American bistro cuisine served up at a great price in a swanky environment. Sure there are some who are there just to see and be seen and that may turn a some people off but in reality I think Bavette’s is the sort of place with something for everyone and much like Sodikoff’s other projects it is a space that will be busy for many years to come.