Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Do you like bread? Head to Bar Blanc

In a last hurrah before the holidays, I met my colleagues SW and SP at Bar Blanc in the West Village for an end-of-year celebratory dinner. It was early on a Tuesday evening, so the place was pretty much deserted when we got there. We settled comfortably into our table in the small, overwhelmingly white (ahem), modern dining room.

Our friendly waitress cheerfully gave us ample time to decide on our drink order (our heads weren't quite in the game yet, and we were taking a while). Our drink orders in, a bread man came by and offered us either a slice of plain white bread or a slice of olive bread. All three of us took the olive bread, which we dipped eagerly in a dish of standard olive oil in the center of the table.

Look at those beautiful big olives

Then our drinks arrived. We had each ordered a glass: SW and SP each selected a red blend, while I went for a tall glass of cava. In a nice touch, our server poured the glasses for us at the table, which makes the usually shameful act of ordering wine by the glass a classy production. That is, until your server empties the bottle of cava into your glass halfway through filling it, apologizes profusely, returns with a new bottle, and tops off the glass with a new bottle. For still wine, this wouldn't be a huge problem, but since it was early in the evening there's little chance that that bottle of sparkling wine had been opened that day... making my own glass a mixture of half-flat and half-aggressively-bubbly wine. I'm nit-picking here-- it was delicious, as all bubbly is. Plus, the glassware was quite nice.

It held lots

Once we had finished our slices of bread, the bread man came back and offered us each another slice, which we obligingly accepted. All three of us gobbled that down (another slice of olive bread, which was really, really good), and soon the bread man was back, offering another slice. At this point I dropped out of the game... I could see where this was going, and Janine's stomach can only take so many slices of bread at a time. SP and SW were game for one more round, accepting a third slice, but declined when the bread man returned once more after they had finished. And we all declined when he returned a FIFTH time to offer us bread late in the meal. All I can say is, I love bread so to me this was pretty awesome, but for people counting the fine points of restaurant service, perhaps five bread man appearances are a few too many for one dinner.

Before our entrees arrived, we were entertained by a tiny amuse-bouche of pickled tapioca and asian pear, all served in a diminutive soup-style spoon. It was a perfect one-bite teaser, full of interesting textures and unusual flavors.


Once our palates were primed, our entrees made their way to the table. SW had been counting on ordering the seared black cod, but when we arrived our waitress informed us that due to the blizzard in Massachusetts, they were out of cod (boo!!). So SW went with the halibut, which was served with cauliflower, king oyster mushrooms, grapefruit confit, and almond sauce. It was quite a pretty piece of fish, served atop a melange of ingredients encased in a flurry of foam. Despite the initial cod-related disappointment, SW seemed to like this dish, and as you can see she also wishes the readers of this blog halibut-associated peace.

Fish & more

SP had chosen the braised lamb shoulder orecchiette. It was quite delicious-looking-- the blanket of shaved parmesan covering the pasta was especially appealing. SP approved.

If the pasta had ears...

My own entree was the winter squash salad, which came with baby arugula, goat cheese, and walnut vinaigrette. I will go out on a limb and say this salad is one of the best I've ever eaten. The pieces of squash were tender and sweet; the microgreens were fresh; the two rectangular croutons were saturated in butter. But what made this salad pop were the tiny granules of salt sprinkled throughout, large enough to crunch but not overpowering. They just brought all the salad's flavors together. Spectacular.

Humble, but packs a punch

Entrees dispatched, we were on to dessert. Being a Southern girl through and through, SW went for the warm beignets with chocolate jam, passionfruit, and toasted cocoa bean ice cream. I tried a tiny taste of the passionfruit and the ice cream, and all were delicious. SW enjoyed these beignets, which are one of Bar Blanc's signature dishes.

Free-form fried goodness

After a lengthy discussion about foods that start with Q, both SP and I went with the quince crisp (N.B.: It is very difficult to say "quince crisp," especially after a glass of wine). This was a small dish of stewed quince, tender but still with a nice texture, studded with "wild oregon huckleberries" (not sure I've ever had huckleberries before), topped with crumb topping, and served with a scoop of fromage blanc ice cream. This dessert was small but delicious-- all the ingredients were top-notch, and as the ice cream melted into the fruit and crumbs below it became a creamy, soupy delight. I could have eaten an entire baking pan's worth of this.

Looks small. 'Cause it was.

Finally, after we had packed away the desserts, a runner brought over a plate of complimentary butter cookies. These were standard butter cookies, crumbly and rich-- a very nice touch.

A trio of powdered-sugar delights

We had a great meal at Bar Blanc. I would certainly return for the salad, which I'm still thinking about several days later, and it's good to know that there's a restaurant in NYC that aggressively tries to pack you as full of carbs as possible. And it's worth noting that for all the restaurant's pretense (most notably the austere, sort of fun-lacking atmosphere), the service was friendly and welcoming. For a nice dinner of any type, or just an occasion when you need some good food, I'd recommend Bar Blanc-- it's a relatively understated four-Offset-Spatula experience.

Bar Blanc

142 W. 10th Street

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