A quick review of my visit to Blue Smoke this past Friday night. We were there its first night open and found fewer problems than others on this board, but I promised to post an update.
We arrived on time for our 7:15 reservation and the joint was jumping. 15 minute wait in the bar zone while they found a table for us ... not an unreasonable wait. Seated in a nice roomy booth (there were three of us - the booth sat 6) ...
Overall - service was a couple of notches below what we experienced on opening night, when I'm sure the first string was working the floor. Food was mostly improved, with the st. louis ribs being the only real noticeable exception.
Service was a bit frazzled and inexperienced. Our server seemed a little overwhelmed by the whole thing ... sort of brusque and frantic, yet slow and inattentive. Once our food was on the table she didn't come back again to check on us (ie the usual "how is everything?" check) until she was bringing us dessert menus (although Meyer stopped by to say hi during our appetizers). Other snags - she somehow missed or forgot our request to take leftovers home with us ... she managed to save a bit of the pulled pork but nothing else made it into the doggie bag - shame, since we had been talking over dinner about how great the leftovers were going to be. Once we were were ready to leave, our credit card sat on the table with the bill for a good 15-20 minutes (I think she forgot about us) until another staffer noticed how long it had been sitting there and took it over to our server to ring through. These service snags were definitely not there on opening night - when I think I recognized our server from that time from a previous meal at USC. I suppose its not really fair - the service lapses were not that unusual for a NYC restaurant in this price range. It's just that it's a Danny Meyer resetaurant, and along with all of the deserved acclaim, comes elevated expectation - a higher standard of service expected the moment we walk into one of his restaurants.
Food: On the whole it matched or surpassed our previous visit, with one significant exception.
Started with iceberg salad with roquefort dressing and an order of the frybread. Both were superlative - I'm addictive to the frybread with the jalapenjo marmalade ... the chipotle butter, unfortunately, had clearly just come out the fridge and was rock hard - totally impenetrable, unspreadable, and undippable.
Followed with two orders of pulled pork and one of the St. Louis ribs, with onion rings, mac & cheese, creamed spinach, and potato salad on the side. Side orders won unanimous raves. Rings were huge and crunchy and delicately seasoned. Spinach was fantastic! Buttery and flavorful without being unbearably rich. How is it that a dish so simple is messed up by so many kitchens? Potato salad was great as well - one in our party liked it even better when she mashed a few of the dill pickles with her fork and combined the pickles into the salad. The mac & cheese was - I'm not kidding - THE ABSOLUTE BEST I'VE EVER HAD. Really, really good - wonderful texture, wonderful flavour.
Pulled pork was great - even better than our last visit. Moist, tender, flavourful. The ribs were the only serious miss from the kitchen - they were great on our last visit but a real disappointment this time. More bone than meat, and much dryer and chewier than they should have been. I see that someone else on this board was also there Friday night and had better luck with the ribs. Consistency is going to be the key to making this place work.
Desserts - I had the sticky toffee pudding which was great - although I think I'll enjoy it more in the winter. A rich, dark, English-style steamed pudding with wonderful toffee sauce, topped with chopped nuts, and a whipped creme fraiche (which I don't usually like) that cut through the richness nicely. I do feel guilty for not ordering the rhubarb crisp, which would have been more appropriate to the season. I love tart spring rhubarb. Anyway, R had the banana split and loved it - the chocolate ice cream was wonderful, and while we couldn't identify all of the ice creams (more description - and a separate dessert card - would be good) they were all great. C had a vanilla milkshake with a shot of espresso and loved being able to have coffee and dessert all at once!
Bottom line: This place is going to fly. The place was jam-packed, and both Meyer and the chef were all over the place troubleshooting. I think they know they have a road ahead of them, and they're going to need to do some real work on the floor (bringing the staff up to the DM standard and weeding out the duds) and in the kitchen (finding consistency) ... I really want this place to succeed, and I think it will.
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