Thursday, July 21, 2011

Tails, Ears, and Cheeks but No Tats

This week's proverb: If you must choose between two evils, pick the one you've never tried before.*

So it was that I ended up at the Blue Goat with someone else's husband.

It's not questionable in any way; the wife knew about our rendezvous, she had plans of her own and we're just friends anyway.

But we were both enticed by the thought of a restaurant devoted to "nose to tail" eating. No one told us that we'd be doing nose to tail near West End style.

The poured concrete bar is interestingly shaped. The music (Coldplay, U2)  is a good volume but sometimes tough to decipher over the conversation bouncing off all the hard surfaces.

The walls have been stripped to the brick, the ceiling to the girders and the carpeting has given way to linoleum. It's a very attractive space.

Arriving at 6:30 meant arriving at peak time, apparently. Some were even willing to sit outside in the 100 degree heat, but we weren't among them.

People continued to stream in long after we settled into two stools at the far end of the bar nearest the front.
Unfortunately, the seats provided a view of the two large flat screens that sucked the soul out of the bar. I know some people enjoy TV at a bar, but I'm not one of them.

Our bartender was a familiar face (from right here in J-Ward) and supplied us with a heavily bruised martini and a Bodegas Borsao Campo de Borja  Rosado, a deep pink rose with good fruit and a refreshing finish.

As we glanced around the lively bar, there was not a seat available. The place was hopping, but then it's new so the curiosity factor is still quite high.

After catching up on each other's lives and recent restaurant meals, we looked at the menu (well-priced at $7-$17) for what looked good.

This is the friend who, like me, eats absolutely everything, so the menu held a lot of temptations.

For our first course, we chose braised goat, Ricotta and Swiss chard homemade ravioli with sage brown butter and shaved Pecorino as well as balsamic-braised pig tail with Gorgonzola polenta.

We loved that the pig tail had a deep sweetness and while we understood the choice of the salty Gorgonzola as an accompaniment, we couldn't rave about the combination (but very much appreciated them separately).

The ravioli's pasta  was a tad thick and we looked for more spice in the raised goat, although most people would have just savored the lovely sage butter sauce.

After enjoying these two courses, my friend observed that perhaps the food had been spiced to suit the crowd. 

Even the familiar preparations seemed geared to making the diner comfortable with creative ingredients for those who don't usually eat the unusual.

Always a fan of pork cheeks, these were doubly appealing for the spaetzle that accompanied them. Fork-tender, they too were light on the seasoning.

The batter-fried julienne strips of Smithfield pig ears with a sunny side up duck egg with crispy Swiss chard, peppers and onion looked like calamari but packed a salty punch. Incredibly salty, almost inedibly salty.

We did get a kick out of our server telling us to "Break the yolk and mix it all up," as if that wouldn't have occurred to us.

As it turned out, though, the egg was well-done and so there was little yolk to drip despite her instructions.

That's when it hit us. The nose to tail menu was catering to the crowd. We'd only had four things, but all of them seemed to point to making the food accessible to the clientele. Fair enough.

Unfortunately for us,we were not the expected clientele We were looking for something more rustic, more earthy, more flavorful and instead got a very safe selection of body parts.

Still, we did get pig tail, cheeks and ears and that's saying a lot for Richmond.

At one point, my friend looked around and asked, "So what's the one thing that's missing among the people here?" I looked around and hazarded a guess.

"Tattoos?" I asked. He was terribly impressed that I'd nailed it on the first guess.

"Maybe no tattoos means safe food," he hypothesized. It should be noted that neither he nor I are inked. 

Still, we usually eat closer in to downtown sharing the bar with the inked and the food suits us better. Necessarily, conclusions are drawn. 

But we realized that we were in the minority when the women next to us (both from the immediate neighborhood) told us that it was their second visit and that they'd be back. 

But their order told a different story. They'd chosen frites, salad and a charcuterie plate. Not a body part in sight. Ladies, come on. How often do you see this kind of a menu?

And that got my friend and I discussing the restaurant's concept. Can it hold up to a neighborhood that likes food safe and familiar?

Only time will tell, but if the menu doesn't satisfy the foodies willing to drive in and it's off-putting to the locals desperate for a neighborhood restaurant, it seems inevitable that the menu will morph.

Only time will tell. For now, I like the five-choice tequila listing ($7-$15) and the energy at the bar, but I think it's safe to say that the place is not geared for people like me and my borrowed husband.

Which is fine because neither of us lives in the neighborhood and clearly there are plenty of people from right around there who will happily support it. 

Once my fiend left for suburbia and his wife, I drove eastward to Secco for a change of pace.

After some pink indecisiveness, I was offered a flight of Mazzolino Sparkling Rose, Domaine Brazilier Côteaux du Vendomois Rose Gris, and Domaine de Fenouillet Ventoux Rose, three lovely pale pink selections with my name on them.

Happily, I found  a server with whom I could talk upcoming music shows, a chef to talk food and a bar sitter to talk walking Grace Street with.

I could feel myself relaxing into my kind.

You can take the girl out of the city (proper) but not the city out of the girl, even for pig parts and goat. But I tried.

Lesson learned.

*From The Blue Goat menu


  1. I don't see the problem with a restaurant that suits its menu to the neighborhood crowd. It seems like a sound business practice to me. I do see your point that they should have a few exciting tidbits to offer those willing to make the drive, but it seems that one of the quickest ways to kill a restaurant is to make things too exotic for the local tastes. Your best repeat business is not going to be from those who have to drive 30 minutes to an hour each way to get to your establishment. I do appreciate your letting everyone know about this place, though.

  2. You nailed my point exactly! I think that catering to that under-served neighborhood is exactly what they should be doing!

    I was just saying that they may want to cater to them even a bit more so people will order more than salads, frites and cheese plates. Give the people what they want.

    It's a fun bar, too, lively and unlike any other around there, so they are adding a much-needed social destination to the area, too.

    Neighborhood joints need to suit their neighborhood and Westhampton is lucky to have such a worthy addition. I have a friend who lives just around the corner there and she's always bemoaning the lack of a "good" place in her 'hood.

    Now she finally has one.