Blackbird review 11/16/06
Today my wife and I attended a matinee at the Lyric Opera and decided we didn’t want to fight the rush on the Metra back home, so we opted to give Blackbird a shot. I was hesitant due to some negative reviews (with service–not food) on this board.
I’ll begin this with a question to regulars of this and others like this establishment: when there’s a booth side and a chair side, does it matter or is there a standard of who sits where? As the male, is the assumption that I will have the chair and the lady will have the booth?
Anyway, about the restaurant:
I’ll mention the service first. It was fine, the waiter was helpful, made recommendations, I mentioned we were vegetarian and he suggested an appetizer that could be made without fish, I asked for a wine suggestion and his suggestion was excellent (a 2005 Cabernet Franc from France, Loire I think). Throughout the meal he was attentive and polite, though formal (some may say stuffy, but he made a number of dry jokes that I think would dispute the stuffy label). When we arrived there was one other couple in the restaurant and by the time we left the place was maybe 35% full, maybe the service was better because it wasn't as busy?
The amuse was a fennel puree with fennel and I believe parsnip...I forget exactly, but it was beautifully presented and tasted great. I noticed the people next to us had a slice of some sort of fish (a white meat anyway) on it.
For an appetizer my wife had the “parsnip bisque with smoked swordfish, puffed wild rice, extra virgin and cilantro” minus the swordfish, but with white beets instead. I found the soup to be good but I couldn’t help but think it was missing something...perhaps the swordfish would’ve helped. The puffed wild rice did add an excellent dimension to it, very nice nutty flavors that worked well with the creaminess of the soup.
I went with the “berkshire blue cheese salad with rye bread crackers, roasted red grapes, radishes and buckwheat honey” which was excellent, lots of bold flavors that went very well together. The grapes had a weird sort of carmelization that at first I thought was a reduction sauce, but in retrospect may have been the grape itself and a result of the roasting? Either way–good stuff.
For an entree, we both had “crispy buckwheat crepes with hazelnut 'cassoulet', fresh ricotta, pickled baby carrots and grilled abalone mushrooms.” The mushrooms were amazing, meaty and hearty, I’m glad we went with a firmer red wine as they paired wonderfully. The baby carrots were excellent, sliced with the stem still on, I’ve never seen a baby carrot presented that way.
The crepes, you guessed it, were excellent as well. I found them to be a bit much towards the end though. The plate came with two, the first one was great, but my the time we each started digging into the second the cheese got to be too much. Being full without finishing the entree is a good sign in my book, so that’s not a criticism.
For dessert we went with “caramel cremeux with delicata squash, ellendale tangerines and toasted pumpkin seeds.” The cremeux was a very thick pudding, extremely rich. The squash was a puree that sort of accented it and there was some sort of ice cream served with it (mango?) and it all worked together well.
Complaints? Well, this is a bit minor, though it’s worth pointing out. We were on the east side of the restaurant which is a long booth that spans the wall and twenty or so tables for two. The restaurant was maybe 30% full and for some reason they sat another couple directly next to us. There were at least ten other tables where they could’ve sat that couple, including one, two, or three tables over which were free. On the one hand, this could’ve been intentional–if a party of six had a reservation they would need that space–on the other hand, most of the larger tables on the west side were vacant, so why not sit larger parties there? As I said–it’s a minor gripe.
The final verdict—no complaints on service or food. The two veg (and the cheapest) entrees, two appetizers, and one dessert with a $48 bottle was $144 plus tip so you can plan accordingly there.
I'd go back, but I think I'd wait until they change their menu.
It's great to know that you could have a satisfying vegetarian meal at Blackbird - and that they were so accomodating about that. It all sounds delicious.
It is weird that they sat another party right by you. I can only speculate that they think its more convevial, as opposed to having several isolated tables scattered throughout the room. In answer to your question - whenever we're shown to a banquette, it always seems to be assumed that I'll be taking the banquette side - but my husband likes the banquette, and I don't care, so there's always a sort of awkward little dance as I move toward the chair, and he moves in for the banquette - the waiter has to change course pretty quickly to hold my chair for me! I guess the banquette is more desirable, so they assume the gentleman will yield it to the lady!
Blackbird is a funny place. I laughed the first time I was there, and noticed that they feel it's necessary to tell everyone (on the menu) that the waiters are dressed in clothing by Joseph Abboud (they must get a deal). I can't say I've always had a great meal there - there was one lunch that was really disappointing - but we've never had anything but wonderful dinners at Blackbird.
First off, I chuckled a bit when you said the soup was missing something - my immediate thought was, "well, yeah! it was missing swordfish!" :-)
As for the booth vs chair... I would think that custom would be that the lady gets the booth - as it would be more comfortable and there's no getting your chair bumped. So, I'd say on a date, if you're not comfortable asking, the man should take the chair. Of course, you could simply offer the lady her choice of seats, instead. For myself, I know that my husband hates to have his back to the room, and so I take the chair.
Regarding people being seated directly next to you when the room is mostly empty. It happened to me recently, and I must say it bugs me. But, the only option I could think of was to ask to be moved myself, and it just wasn't worth it at that point of the meal. I almost asked about it when we left, but by then the place was packed, so at that point is was moot.
Thanks for sharing your experience. Reports are my favorite part... I get to eat vicariously through others!
j_hyde has it correct. The lady is to have the booth so that she may enjoy all the sights of the room. The gentleman is to have the chair so as to focus his attention on the lady, and the lady only. Most places will pull out the table and motion for the lady to take the booth, thereby eliminating any confusion; and so she doesn't have to sit and scoot to the middle of the table.