Tuesday, September 2, 2008

You're going to like Bleu. Probably a lot.

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
Columbia, MO
(573) 442-8220
(website's not yet live...perhaps casting some minor doubt on my Yankees/professionalism comment)


rweater said...

I'm glad that they're having such a great start. I can't wait to try it, especially the olives.

I did venture into Room 38 last week, but only for drinks, so I don't have much of an impression over their food.

Anonymous said...

Do they have regular size tables?

Scott said...

Yes, they have regular size tables and booths...as opposed to the more lounge-y Room 38.

Anonymous said...

I have worked with all three of the leaders in this restaurant and let me tell you, Columbia, you are in for a treat! I am so glad that they are off to a great start and I know that with talents like that of Travis, Tina and Mark, their restaurant will continue to be successful in the future.

Anonymous said...

I just had some wine and appetizers there tonight. I was impressed with everything. I too have worked with Travis, Tina and Mark and would agree with the last poster that they all will bring, and have brought, much to Bleu. I really feel happy that Columbia now has three great restaurants downtown with Bleu, Sycamore and The Wine Cellar and Bistro.

Anonymous said...

I would have to disagree with the title, completely. We were very excited about the opening of this restaurant...more upscale dining in Columbia. Alas, we were sorely disappointed. The wine list is vastly overpriced, and the wines on tap (in large jugs that mix multiple bottles...whether they be good or bad) are decidedly mediocre. We had a salmon dish (overcooked and dry...why would one ever do that to salmon) and the braised short ribs (tender but dry, with no sauce...weird). The atmosphere was bland and service was terrible and slow, despite the fact that the restaurant was empty. It was an inauspicious start for a restaurant having such lofty goals.

Scott said...

There you have it, a dissenting opinion. I do hope you'll give Bleu another chance...it sounds like you caught them on a bad night. I have been four times and found the food from very good to outstanding. Reports from others have been similarly complimentary.

As for the "vastly overpriced wines," I wonder I wonder what your opinion would be of a place where you could not get a number of glasses of wine for $5 and bottles for under $25?

Your point about "corked" bottles being mixed in with good ones is not one I'd considered, but is valid. I do think the fact that each globe holds 34 bottles would largely offset the odd corked bottle.

And interior design is one of life's more subjective elements, but if Bleu seems bland to you, what in Columbia excites?

And for future reference, please visit our new site at ShowMeEats.com or ShowMeEats.wordpress.com. Thanks for your review...dissenting opinions always welcome.

Anonymous said...

Wonderful food. Greatly enjoyed lunch there today with friends. Agree that the sliders are very good!! I plan to take my husband for dinner this weekend.

Anonymous said...

Went today for lunch and had a great time! Drinks were great as was the food, the problem I had was that there really wasnt much of it! Titles like "big" or "small" do not indicate how many you need to order to feed an average person (i am about 5'3 and 125lbs and don't require tons of food). So sadly, i left as hungery as when i arrived, yet had a bill befitting a large meal (that might have even involved leftovers). I have lived in Columbia for 33.5 of my 34 years and have eaten at most of the local restaurants in town (some as often as twice a week), sadly with the economy as it is, i will choose one of my old standards, that have equal or greater portions for the same price or often much less.

Anonymous said...

The bottles of wine that go into the globes are not just poured in regardless of being quality. Each bottle is tasted before being poured into the globe to make sure that only the best is served. They would be idiots not to taste the bottles before pouring them in, and I'm a bit surprised someone posted that comment without being sure whether or not it was true. They should have simply asked the wait staff, or the bartender.

Anonymous said...

Replying to May 15, 2009 comment (last one posted), I do happen to know that the wine globes were filled without tasting each bottle that went into them. Yes, very sloppy and quick to get filled. Even though the wine fixture at Bleu is and has been broken most of its "use", it is very distracting, unpleasing, poorly maintained, and still displayed as a significant, unique feature brought to you by Bleu. This is such poor design and unsatisfactory to patrons. So, the wine was not tasted, even on the $11 per glass wines that were poured into the globes. If a bottle were corked, it was added unknowingly, I'm sure. The restaurant has been around since September of 2008, and the restaurant is losing its "touch". The food is so-so. The service is sometimes good, sometimes bad. The atmosphere is neglected. Chips in table tops, uneven chairs, elbow to elbow with other guests, chewed up food on the floor at tables to name a few neglected items. But the darn wine fixture that doesn't do anything is still displayed to attract people to Bleu and get people talking about Bleu is Bleu's biggest negligence. I mean what else is being neglected? Think about it. Don't get wrapped up in ravishing reviews of Bleu. The owners are getting a bit cocky. The negligent, cocky owners of Bleu isn't worthy of my hard earned money.

Why hasn't anybody posted since May and why was there a 5 month gap between the last posting?