“This is its first night?” asked Adam, incredulously, midway through our dinner at Blue Smoke. He was incredulous because I’ve previously promised not to make him go to restaurants the same day they open, and also because the staff was on it. The restaurant was packed, but slip-ups were few and far between, and the general graciousness more than made up for them. The server was sweet as can be. The hostess, while passing by, noticed that we were done eating our appetizers and asked if she could remove the plates. A manager (?) admired my camera; another manager/host (?) chatted us up as we left. Restaurateur Danny Meyer, smooth as butter, table-hopped, stopping to say hello and answer our many questions. I don’t think he knew that I do this blog, but he may have, because I had spotted one of his PR emissaries earlier. The amazing thing about Danny Meyer is that he always seems to be talking to you because he genuinely likes you.
Which makes this next part a little painful. I’ve never much cared for the food at Blue Smoke. I’ve never been a fan of it in the original location—where I’ve only had it at the downstairs jazz club, Jazz Standard—and I wasn’t all that into it the other night. It’s mostly me, not Blue Smoke. I’m not that excited about barbecue anymore (and yes, I’ve had it all over—Alabama, Missouri, North Carolina, Tennessee, Texas…), and I don’t get off on huge portions. But Blue Smoke is for people not like me; it’s for people who want a plate full of traditional food, who don’t mind sweet-sauced meat, who like a lot of dressing on a salad (with blue cheese and bacon, no less), who aren’t turned off by the idea of Toll House Pie. Everyone else—it was mostly corporatefolk (we were actually seated next to a business acquaintance of Adam’s) and the occasional family—seemed to be relishing the food. And yes, I ordered meat. I rarely walk away from food, but I left a sizable amount of pulled pork on my plate because I was stuffed.
Would I have liked the food more if I’d been in a ramshackle restaurant in Alabama, or Kansas City, or somewhere besides Battery Park City? Possibly. On the other hand, while it’s the antithesis of a barbecue joint, I give Blue Smoke some credit for not acting as if it had been hauled up north on a flatbed truck; the only nod to barbecue atmosphere is a series of photographs on the walls. The trade-off, however, is that it felt kind of like an airport restaurant, what with the TVs over the bar, the lack of tablecloths, the condiments in caddies on every table, the crowd.
“A really nice airport restaurant,” said Adam, who worries I’m too hard on new restaurants. “And it’s much more attractive than the one uptown.”
This meal came at a particularly awkward time, in that I’ve had one amazing West Village meal after another. Have you been to Redfarm? Tertulia? Tremont? Have you been to the Dutch in Soho? They’re all new, but they all have character to burn and food that makes you crave more. Then again, is it even fair to hope that a restaurant in Battery Park City might have character? I’m not trying to be a pill about BPC, but it will be a long time before anything there has the patina you find in Tribeca, or the West Village, or uptown. (And that doesn’t mean living there doesn’t have great advantages! Or that Blue Smoke isn’t a great boon for the neighborhood! As Adam said, “I think that was the first time I’ve crossed the highway for dinner.”) But a sense of place is one of the main things I love about restaurants. I want to be somewhere, not anywhere.
Maybe I’m thinking about all this too much, and Blue Smoke is what it is—a welcome addition to the neighborhood, serving classic American food with excellent service. (Or maybe I’m just a North End Grill kind of guy? I guess we’ll see….)
A few miscellaneous notes: Blue Smoke will serve lunch starting the week of January 23, with takeout and delivery to come in mid-February. The in-house bakery—a couple of shelves and a diner-style dessert case—will be open for real next month. The private room appears to be rather big. And our server said that in a month or so the menu will have more vegetarian options, including a veggie burger that he said is delicious.
Blue Smoke is at 255 Vesey (between West and North End), 212-889-2005; bluesmoke.com.
NOTE: To share an opinion about Blue Smoke, post it on Blue Smoke’s page in the Tribeca Citizen Restaurant Guide.
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