Blue Smoke (NYC)

116 E 27th Street (between Park and Lexington Avenues)
New York, NY 10016

5 Second Summary:
Price Range- Dinner entrees $12-35 (at time of posting)
Ambiance- Casual chic BBQ joint
Cuisine- St. Louis Barbecue
Hits- Shrimp corn dogs, hush puppies, ribs,  pumpkin cheesecake, hospitality
Misses- Not quite a miss, but we ‘d skip the “peanuts” appetizer next time.
I love a good Restaurant Week success story…
Sometimes choosing a place to eat during Restaurant Week is a toss-up, and it depends pretty heavily on the menu.  Some folks put on their “Sunday best” and try to woo a new clientele.  Others sit back on their haunches and merely try  to keep up with the influx.  Blue Smoke is the former.
A jazz-joint staple of the legendary Danny Meyer (Shake Shack, Union Square Cafe, Eleven Madison Park), Blue Smoke is an unpresuming and pleasant surprise.  Upon entering, one chooses the main floor restaurant (Blue Smoke) or the downstairs jazz club (Jazz Standard).
Families and couples crowded the restaurant for lunch.  Arriving a bit early, we had cocktails at the bar, which was a no-frills sort of straightforward but attractive nonetheless .
We were seated pretty much exactly on time for our 2pm reservation.  Although not fancy, the space wasn’t shabby either.  Open and airy, with exposed brick and bright windows looking out onto a wooden fence, the room was jammed with tables and divided by a “wall” of nautical stars.

Ravenously hungry, my husband Rich and I, along with our friends Liz and Brian, couldn’t contain ourselves to the Restaurant Week menu.  Eyes undoubtedly bigger than our stomachs, we ordered a few appetizers off the RW menu, a brazen move we would later pay for in the form of piles of unfinished food and takeout boxes.  First, we tried Blue Smoke’s North Carolina salt peanuts, which are specially made for the restaurant by the men’s group of a Methodist church.  A little oilier and saltier than your standard can of Planters, they were tasty and slightly smoky, but peanuts are pretty much peanuts.

The table then shared iced oysters on the half shell with spicy cocktail sauce.
Then, a fabulously clever play on the corn dog —corn-battered shrimp— served on skewers with an avocado lime mayo.  These were worth risking the effects of my (admittedly mild) shellfish allergy.  The avocado lime mayo alone was one of the best things I had all day.  Light, fresh, and very clean tasting, I could’ve easily devoured a jarful with some plain tortilla chips.  The shrimp were tender with a crisp snap and perfectly crunchy fried crust.

Still off the menu, we shared perfectly round corn hush puppies with a sweet jalapeno marmalade.  The ‘pups were crisp on the outside, soft and doughy on the inside… like savory little cakes.
Our last off-the-Restaurant-Week menu item was a generous basket of charred-skin sweet potato wedges with a white maple dip.  These were starchy with nice bite, cut just thick enough to enjoy.  They were sweet, but not as overly sweet as you might think.  The whole dish showed restraint (on the part of the chef, of course, not the eater).  🙂
With all of this food, we hadn’t even gotten to our Restaurant Week menu first courses yet.  Liz’s appetizer was the sleeper favorite… a flaky tart crust with house smoked bacon, Yukon gold potatoes, and white cheddar, not on the regular menu.  Buttery, smoky, starchy, and savory, it was perfect winter comfort food.
My husband had the smoked chicken liver pate with a salted rye stick and peppered-pear chutney.  The pate was smooth, warm, and slightly mineral-y.  The rye bread was just enough to cool the mouth after the peppered-pear chutney, which was achingly sweet followed by slow, hot-pepper heat.
Brian and I each chose the chipotle wings with creamy blue cheese.  The plate was a generous helping of at least 8 wings slathered in chipotle sauce, which also had a mild to medium slow-build heat.  The wings themselves were meaty, but I prefer a crispier skin.  This was the point in our culinary marathon when I knew I was in trouble.  Two wings in, I was keenly aware that there was a lot more food coming and that I would have to will myself through the Brobdingnagian portions.
When our entrees came, I could hardly breathe.  All four lunch choices looked incredible, and I’d had a lot of trouble choosing.  Fortunately, we ordered enough of a variety that I could taste most of them.  My husband Rich ordered the Kansas City ribs with pit beans and pickles.  They were meaty, smoky, and wet.  The beans, also meaty and delicious, had just enough sweet and savory.

Brian ordered the hanger steak, which had been a strong contender as I considered my options on the train ride downtown.  As many of you know, I consider hanger steak on a menu a direct challenge to me, as the eater.  When someone has the cajones to put hanger steak on their menu, I feel like they are boldly promising to make it worth my while.  Sometimes the leap of faith is richly rewarded with a soft, well-tenderized, and incredibly flavorful treat.  More often than not, it’s a very tasty but tough, chewy cut of meat.  I refrained from the dare this time, figuring I’d be able to taste Brian’s dish enough to satisfy my curiosity.  Although it was very tasty, I was glad I hadn’t taken the risk.  The steak was definitely a bit tough and would not have exceeded my Harold-Dieterle-Perilla-high hopes.
What I did order was the apple-glazed smoked chicken with mashed potatoes and crispy onions.  The chicken was tender, juicy, and smoky, as promised.  As mentioned, I would have preferred a crispier skin, which would’ve knocked this dish out of the park.  The fried onion slivers gave taste and crunch to thick and oh-so comforting mashed potatoes.  I had long-since thrown in the towel and wound up taking the majority of my dish home.
Dessert was included in our RW menu, and I felt the same way about it as I did when facing our upcoming honeymoon after our wedding: “Really??? There’s MORE?” It felt over-lavish, over-extravagant.  And, besides, I had not an ounce of room left in my belly to put it.  Rich got a pumpkin cheesecake.  I’m not really a cheesecake kind of gal, but with caramel pecans and freshly whipped cream, this dessert was incredible.
Brian had the warm apple crisp with cinnamon, brown-sugar ice cream.

Liz had the grasshopper brownie sundae, also with fresh cream.  The fresh mint was a bit strong for me, but the hot-cold balance and rich chocolate were a success.
With barely any zest left in me, I forced my fork into my dessert solely for the sake of my readership.  (Oh, the sacrifices I make for you… I hope you’re grateful. 🙂 )  I had chosen wisely… buttermilk cake with ginger beer pears and creme fraiche, which sparked a table-ful of South Park “cream freesh” jokes.  The cake was spongy and soft and paired (bad pun intended) beautifully with mildly spiced pears.  Again, it was a muted, restrained dessert, one where you can feel the passion behind it, but it doesn’t slap you in the face.  (Think Ethan Frome versus The Notebook.)

Finally, as we gathered our mountain of takeout boxes in takeout bags, we were each treated to a very hospitable wrapped chocolate chip cookie from the Blue Smoke Bake Shop.  There’s nothing I love more than a restaurant parting gift (see Del Posto and Momofuku Ko); I think it’s a touch of class, particularly during Restaurant Week, that separates the proverbial wheat from the chaff.  A take-home goodie is the sign of an eatery that takes nothing for granted and is still trying to woo you, an unnecessary but generous gesture of appreciation.  Just slightly crisp around the edges and chewy everywhere else, this cookie is like a kiss from your grandmother.  As full as we were, we shared one on the train ride home.
Overall, the generous portions, punctual seating, and clean flavors (sweet, salty, savory) won me over.  The menu was intriguing and left us enthusiastic to visit again.  The timing between courses was a little slow, but —rather than a flaw— I would see this more as an opportunity to relax, drink, talk with friends, digest, and linger over each plate.  Blue Smoke was unpretentious, hearty, and welcoming.  Good value, good food, good price.  I can safely say that I blew through and over my Weight Watchers points pretty hard today, but it was well worth it.  I left full and still have lunch for tomorrow… although those mashed potatoes in the fridge might not make it ’til morning.   🙂

5 Responses to “Blue Smoke (NYC)”

  1. You all must have jobs! I living in N.C. go for the specials my local Food Lion Store has to offer. Chicken, corn and melons. Desert is on special too their brand. I try and get some chocolate so I can use peanuts on it. Enjoy no matter where you are living.

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