I joked to Amy shortly after we sat down that I hoped eating here would not make me want to run right out the next day and buy a copy of Kurt Vonnegut’s Bluebeard, the novel from which the restaurant got its name; and then, of course, by the end of the meal, I wanted to run right out the next day and buy a copy of Bluebeard. Amy and I usually take each other out for dinner, in lieu of buying presents, to celebrate the anniversary of each of our arrivals on earth. I usually forget to think about it when my turn comes around, and then have to come up with something completely unthought out at the very last second. This year, however, I had three ideas percolating in the back of my mind—Bluebeard, Recess, and Black Market.
There was an article in NUVO recently that was tangentially about the restaurant, but which was really more about the father of the guy who owns the restaurant. The descriptions of the father’s peripatetic life, his rock-star credentials, his ability to work with his hands and fix things up—abandoned storefronts all over the city, especially along Mass Ave, and now the space in Fletcher Place that Bluebeard occupies—made me even more interested in the place than I had been after looking at the eclectic menu and discovering that they have a separate bakery attached to the restaurant—where they bake all of their own bread, on-site.
I also checked the menus for each restaurant on the magic internets the day we were planning to go out, hoping that might help me make up my mind. I was leaning toward Bluebeard, but I wanted Recess and Black Market to have the chance to make their respective cases, since menus for all three restaurants change on a regular basis. The menu at Recess actually changes daily, and is entirely based on what’s in season and what is available locally. Unfortunately, I didn’t write down what they were serving at Recess last Wednesday, so I don’t recall exactly what was on the menu that I thought Amy would either not like or be hesitant to try. Black Market was offering a root vegetable masala that sounded awfully tempting. In the end, though, the intriguing combination of charcuterie, cheese, salads, and small/medium/large plates, combined with the story of the restaurant’s origin, led me to Bluebeard.
The restaurant is tucked away off of Virginia Avenue, right where it makes a T with College Avenue, and the entrance sits at an angle off of the sidewalk. (When Amy asked about the neighborhood, which she deemed “cute,” as we were walking back to the car after dinner, I erroneously placed the restaurant in Fountain Square. We eat in Fountain Square so often that I think I have automatically assigned any restaurant on Virginia Avenue to that neighborhood, even though you’re not actually in Fountain Square going southeast on Virginia out of downtown until you cross the interstate.) The walls are lined with bookshelves and typewriters, including one that is supposedly a replica of the one that Vonnegut used when he was writing Bluebeard. I don’t remember much of the rest of the décor, because it’s been a little over a week since we ate there; and instead of writing about the restaurant right away, I’ve been concentrating on National Novel Writing Month.
But oh, the food. Or no, wait. The drinks. We both got drinks. Like, ones with alcohol in them. It almost never happens that we both get a drink, but what the hell, right? They had two kinds of Sun King on tap that I had never encountered before. I’ve forgotten one of them, but the one I tried was the El Gallo Negro, which is very similar to the Osiris Pale Ale—very aromatic, with strong citrus notes in the hops. The El Gallo Negro is even more aromatic, with very strong, fruity citrus notes in the hops; and whereas the Osiris is very clean and crisp, the El Gallo Negro is dense and earthy—almost thick—like a rich espresso. Amy had a glass of Sexual Chocolate (at our server’s behest), a California zinfandel/syrah blend that was also very rich and earthy, but had a very high alcohol. I’m not much of a wine person, especially when it comes to wines with high alcohol, so this one didn’t do much for me. Amy, however, was delighted with it.
Okay, so now—oh, the food. In addition to the backstory and décor, another interesting aspect of Bluebeard is the way the menu is structured. It breaks down into Snacks, Charcuterie, Cheese, Salads, Vegetables & Sides, Small Plates, Medium Plates, and Large—with price points from $4 all the way up to $32. Charcuterie and Cheese are each three choices for $14, and everything else is basically what it says it is. You can graze your way through the smaller portions as though you were at a tapas restaurant, or you can go full bore for the meat and potatoes thing—or pretty much any combination in between. We started with a Charcuterie of elk and pork salami, salami picante, and chorizo; and a Cheese of Parma Reggiano, Brick Street Tomme, and some sort of goat cheese I’ve forgotten the name of—though now that I think about it, they may just have called it chèvre. They came to the table all on one big board with orange marmalade, whole grain horseradish mustard, cornichons, and pickled caper buds, with a basket of bread to go with it.
I’m not sure it was $28 worth of food, but it was awfully good. Each of the three kinds of meat we had was hard and dried, wtih subtle variations in taste. I’m pretty desensitized to the heat in spicy foods after all these years, so if there was some heat to the salami picante, I didn’t pick up on it. It had a hint of the zesty flavor of something that had been jacked up with something spicy, but none of the heat. The chorizo had the familiar flavor of the crumbly Mexican version wrapped up nicely in the dried Spanish version. The elk and pork may have been the best of three. The tangy flavor of good hard salami paired well with the slightly gamey flavor of the elk. I was less impressed with the cheeses, though they were still quite good. The goat cheese was the best of the three there, a perfect combination of the creamy and tangy flavors that complement the unique taste of goat’s milk. The Brick Street Tomme seemed to be nothing more than a standard washed rind cheese, except that its rind was washed in Sun King’s Wee Mac Scottish Ale. I wasn’t able to pick up on that flavor, but, again, that doesn’t mean it was bad. The Parma Reggiano was very dry and crumbly, but had a hint of that sweet nuttiness that good Parmesan will pick up as it ages.
The best thing on that board, though, oddly enough, was the whole grain horseradish mustard. I took a bite of that magical little condiment, and it was actually singing to me. The flavor of those mustard grains was bright and clean, even slightly fruity or flowery; and underneath it was an aggressive horseradish flavor lying in wait like a “yellow smoke that rubs its muzzle on the window panes.” I have eaten a lot of mustard in my life, and I don’t think I’ve ever tasted one that was as well-balanced as this one. You could have given me a jar of that mustard and a spoon, and I would have been a happy guy.
After that impressive starter, we moved on to entrée salads. I went with the roasted beet salad, with mushrooms, arugula, feta, almonds, crispy shallots, and balsamic-truffle vinaigrette ($11). This was a deep bowl of beautifully dressed, slightly wilted greens, with an abundance of crispy, crunchy, sweet, and savory flavors. The amount of food for the price was a nice surprise after the $28 meat and cheese assortment. Amy had the frisée salad, with bacon, Granny Smith apples, fennel, red onion, 5 minute egg, Banyuls vinegar, and blue cheese dressing ($14). I tried one bite, and it seemed pleasant enough. Amy said she had trouble locating the blue cheese part of the blue cheese dressing, but was ultimately quite satisfied with the dish.
We dropped an even $100, but you could away with spending far less. We don’t usually have drinks when we go out to dinner, so if we had gone with just ice water, as per our usual, that would have knocked off $19 right there. Amy also tipped a little on the heavy side, to the point that I almost thought she was angling to make out with our server. We don’t repeat very often when we get the chance to go out to dinner someplace nice, but I can imagine that this one will call our names again before long. Next time, maybe I’ll remember to ask about the bakery.
643 Virginia Avenue