If the other brand-new tapas place downtown is an earnest Triple-A team learning the ropes, Bleu Restaurant is the Yankees, all class and professionalism and easy elegance. After admittedly just a single visit, Bleu looks and tastes ready for prime time.
Some purists may scoff at the menu’s global approach to tapas (fried green tomatoes, lemon-marinated olives and steak frites all adorn the same menu) and wonder where the Spanish stuff is. Me? I’m just looking for something good to eat. And at Bleu, it looks like that will be just about everything.
The lunch menu is extensive, offering everything from two-dollar pickled vegetable plates to hanger steak and fries. A selection of sliders – pick any three for nine bucks – jumped out at me immediately. I chose the apple and housemade chicken sausage, the beef and muenster and the bison with balsamic onions gorgonzola and arugula. Each one is served on a rich, buttery brioche bun that resembles a biscuit in texture and flavor but manages a certain lightness at the same time. They also each had a well-executed contrast of textures and tastes (heavy gorgonzola cheese and snappy onions, earthy mushrooms and melty muenster, tart apple and sorghum mustard). The whole effect was thrilling.
A bit less successful was their cured salmon carpaccio, which came out with a lemony olive oil, capers and rather punchless arugula. Salmon can be a pretty assertive fish and this was a case in point, enhanced by the intensifying curing process. Salmon aficionados will be right at home but fence-setters should beware.
At this point I was having so much fun I ordered the marinated olives as well (c’mon, they’re only three bucks). Out came a bowl of pitted Spanish and kalamata olives tossed with lemon, olive oil, garlic, rosemary and dill. Bleu’s own pita slices came on the side. The olives were so bright and summery that I hated to not be sitting outside, catching a few rays and swirling a glass of Cotes du Rhone or something.
That brings up the wine, the second half of Bleu’s resume. The by-the-bottle listing is fairly extensive, if a little heavy on the domestics. Still, most are affordable and a few treasures can be found (I’ve never had anything I didn’t like from Thorn-Clarke’s Shotfire Ridge operation, for instance). And I only see one Cotes du Rhone on the menu, though it is one of their by-the-glass offerings.
The partners behind Bleu endured countless delays and barriers to getting this place open. But it’s clear they weren’t wasting their time. My server had actually tried the food and wines and could discuss both with confidence. Food came out quickly and was excellent. One minor mishap (the computer at first double-billed me for my sliders) was handled quickly and with an apology. A general sense of self-assured competence permeates the place. Things may hairy for their first few busy Saturday nights, but there’s no question a strong hand is at the wheel.
Columbia, your dining options just got better.
Bleu Restaurant and Wine Bar
23 S. 8th Street
(website’s not yet live…perhaps casting some minor doubt on my Yankees/professionalism comment)