Before checking out Cruz Blanca http://www.chowhound.com/post/cruz-bl... on Friday night, we gave The Loyalist a call to find out the procedure for getting on the list for tables. To our surprise, she added our name and number by phone and said something should come up in about 45 minutes. We decided to check in here first, and on arrival at The Loyalist were told that the wait would be at least one more hour. So off we went to Cruz Blanca and Leña Brava to wait for the call.
After not hearing from The Loyalist after 90+ minutes we figured we should return to check on our queue before the kitchen closed for the night. Arriving back at the hostess stand just before 10pm (or about 2 hours and 10 minutes after our initial call), two seats at a bar table opened up.
At the top of the cocktail list is the G + T, gin and housemade tonic. Our server gave us a head's up that the tonic would be quite different than commercial tonic. The drink was stained a golden brown. Without lime, it tasted spicy like birch beer to me yet did not cover up the herbal tones of the gin.
Sharing everything, we started with the Biscuit with nduja butter and honey, $6. Lovely warm biscuit with crusty edges and short, crumbly, buttery insides that fell apart at the slightest touch. I had thought that the butter might make the nduja spread too rich, but in fact it seemed to have the opposite effect. Combined with creamy butterfat and honeyed sweetness, the spicy spreadable salume was tamer with a fuller mouthfeel and easier to enjoy. Loved this and I'll be copying the concept at home.
Grilled octopus with fresh shelling beans, $16, was a bit disappointing to me for shy hand with charring. The smoky aroma and crisp surface that grilling should lend were nearly absent. The creamy beans could have been cooked a little longer while I'm nitpicking. This dish seemed undersalted and lacking in enough acidity to give it focus. The fresh dill did give it a brighter buzz, but not quite enough.
We had asked our server for recommendations and he pointed out that most customers were there for the Loyalist cheeseburger and fries, $16, due to some recent publicity. Then he tried to talk us out of ordering it if we preferred our burgers cooked rare since this would be two thin patties, fast food style, with no call on doneness. We decided to ignore the warning, and I'm glad we did. The patties were a have some bacon ground into them for extra juiciness, if I'm remembering correctly. A wet style, dressed with goopy cheese, onion mayo, and pickled onions, I did remove some to be able to get a better handle on the taste of the meat. I was impressed with the sear on the double patties and that some pink was preserved. All in all, with a well-toasted sesame bun, this made for some very delicious mouthfuls. Fries were pretty good though some were inexplicably hard.
Unlike the burger, the Crispy chicken thighs, $25, came highly recommended by our waiter. As crispy as promised, and the pale meat was quite juicy without falling into the mushy texture of overbrined poultry. I loved the Carolina gold rice grits with the meaty juices, and the haricots verts cooked with okra gave us some much needed greenery.
Toasted pavlova, $10, ended the meal on a high note again with my second fave dish of the night. Barely sweet pumpkin ice cream expressed the vegetable nature of this autumnal flavor, then switched to a more dessert like personality when combined in a bite with the brittle. The meringue was mostly chewy, and then delicately crisp on the toasted surface. The thick buttermilk base perked up all the flavors and kept this from being cloying. A very thoroughly designed dessert concept that was a lighter end to a rather heavy meal.
I feel I need to say something about the noise level here. This is one of the loudest restaurants that I've ever been to, and we had the table on the far end of the room next to the host stand. I would hate to be in the middle of the room when it's full earlier in the night. With the low ceilings and hard surfaces, nothing tamps down the sound. The feeling of relief on stepping outside and getting away from the din was profound.