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May 18, 2008 11:17 PM

Birmingham, AL - Graduation Dinner

Hey there!

I'm in desperate need of a recomendation for a great place to eat for my upcoming graduation this Thursday. The price range can be expensive, but not outrageous. $15 -$25 would be about perfect. We're going to have a group of about 10 people so the food needs to be something most people will love (no crazy ethnic places). We're going to coming down 280 from Chelsea so the closer the better.


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  1. Standard Bistro in Mt. Laurel. Great food and atmosphere. Here's a link:

    9 Replies
    1. re: Big Daddy

      Great suggestion, and much better than Prairie Fire down the road.

      1. re: eatyourveggies1

        I would pick Standard Bistro over PF as well. Prairie Fire is so not good to me. I haven't been there in a couple of years, but the last time I went everything was covered in some kind of spicy (but not good) cheesy sauce. Blah.

        1. re: KateMW

          I went to Prairie Fire to take out some clients last Thursday and enjoyed the meal but was not really wowed by anything, except the waiter's multiple references to how they had x, which "is the best in town!" He said this for both some soup and the white chocolate bread pudding.

          We started with the bacon or proscuitto-wrapped shrimp. They were what you would expect, except not memorable enough for me to recall which type of porky goodness (and they are not on the current online menu) Don't get me wrong, I would happily eat them again but would not go out of my way to find them.

          The crab cakes had too much filler but were otherwise quite good. The online menu suggests they were "blackened jumbo lump crab cakes." If the size of my crab cake was an indication, this word "jumbo," it does not mean what they think it means. But this could have been because they said 3 cakes came to an order and we asked for four cakes, so perhaps they split the meat/filler up to make another (non-jumbo) cake.

          For my main I had the "Sonoma Style Seafood Paella $30.00
          Shrimp, scallops, clams, and snapper in a creamy lobster sherry
          broth over a sundried tomato risotto." This was enough to feed a small army and it was good for what it was, and filling as well. I could have taken half home if I liked leftovers. I also realized I do not really like sundried tomatoes. I have tried over the years but I guess I finally need to come to gribs with it. Texture is off for me.

          We did order the white chocolate bread pudding which had a very mushy consistency, but it was still very good in execution and richness. I don't know about the best bread pudding in Bham, but I liked it even with the odd consistency. Then again, although I am not a dessert person, I have met few bread puddings that I did not like.

          The other three diners all loved their mains, one being a shrimp and grits and the other being too fish specials, plus two cups of the "best soup in Birmingham."

          All-in-all, I would definitely return, but probably only on the company dime. I find it hard to imagine braving 280 traffic to pay those prices for a meal when I can likely get similarly priced, but better tasting meal in the Southside.

          1. re: Dax

            I believe it’s about time I commented on Standard Bistro, which is one of my wife’s and my favorite places to dine in Birmingham. We have been eating there at least once or twice a season for about 3 years now, since shortly after we moved here from New Orleans. I mention the New Orleans connection because living there for almost 10 years raised our expectations for food, service and value to levels that are hard to find almost anywhere else we’ve been. I can’t count the times we’ve dined at an attractive restaurant but found the food to be simply boring, ate at a restaurant with good food but received very indifferent service, or had excellent food and service, but portions so small that we left hungry in spite of having paid dearly for the meal. I don’t mean just in Birmingham, either, but we’ve certainly had those experiences aplenty in our town.

            One place where that has not ever been the case is Standard Bistro. Alan Martin is the most under-rated chef in Birmingham IMHO. He is absolutely passionate about using only top quality fresh ingredients, preferably locally produced. He then prepares them in such a way that their flavors both blend and stand out in exciting ways. No matter how many times we order the same fish or the same cut of meat there, the preparation, the sauce and/or the sides are forever changing, depending on what’s available. The word “boring” is thus one that never enters our minds, but the word “delicious” always does.

            The restaurant itself is very attractive, with plenty of room between tables, so you don’t feel cramped for space. The wait staff are true professionals, a rarity at all but a handful of restaurants in this town (including some of the supposedly very best). They not only understand their jobs and perform them very well, but they are also familiar enough with the wines the restaurant has available that one can definitely feel secure in their recommendations for what to drink with that wonderful food.

            I don’t want to mislead anyone, though. The Standard Bistro is not a cheap restaurant. Expect to spend around $55-60 per person for 3 courses, plus drinks, tax and tip. However, I would argue that it is a “bargain,” in the sense that you walk out feeling you have received real value for your money. Chef Martin’s creativity and the overall quality of the dining experience at Standard Bistro frequently have us discussing various aspects of a dinner we ate there for days afterwards (and neither of us leaves hungry either).

            Yes, it’s a little bit of a drive for those of you who don’t live in Inverness or Greystone or one of the other communities off of 280, but if you’re not willing to drive a little for an experience this good, you’re not much of a Chowhound. On the other hand, if too many people read this and decide to give it a try, we may find it becoming difficult to get a dinner reservation there ourselves, so maybe you should just continue visiting your old favorites in Southside/Highlands, and we’ll just keep on enjoying what we’ve got.

            1. re: iko.iko

              All of Standard Bistro's operations (including the hiring of Chef Martin) are overseen by Chris Hastings, owner/operator/chef of Hot & Hot Fish Club. Chris also revamped the Bham Country Club over the last couple of years and is overseeing the restaurant at Alys Beach between Seaside and Rosemary Beach....

              1. re: SkippyLeBeef

                He also runs Fish Out Of Water at Watercolor Inn. I think all of the side projects are what has made Hot and Hot slip over the past few years. It's not even close to as good as it used to be.

                1. re: KateMW

                  I actually had lunch with Chris last week and he's shed everything but H&H, Standard and his consulting work. Watercolor Inn may be part of his consulting services but he didn't mention it. He's working on his first cookbook so I think he skinny'd down his operations to concentrate on that.

                  1. re: SkippyLeBeef

                    Watercolor is part of his consulting gig, unless he has recently given it up.

                    And I agree with Kate completely: Ever since Chris stopped running the kitchen at Hot and Hot on a regular basis, the food has declined precipitously. It has gone from being one of my go-to places to middle tier status.

                    1. re: pinotboy

                      Had a great meal at Betolla the other day. I like his simple approach to Italian cuisine. The atmosphere isn't the Ritz, but it has a good urban feel.