When I first visited the Black Lab Bistro,
over a year ago, I made a vow never, never to return. The décor
was reprehensibly retro -- bare Formica tables, white paper napkins, bottles of
Heinz Ketchup, and circa 1950s sugar canisters -- and I couldn't quite shake the
feeling that the joint needed a good scrubbing top to bottom. An impression
clearly brought home to roost by the significant smudges on the plastic-encased
The bill of fare proffered all the usual suspects, from
mom's meatloaf to hot turkey sandwiches to beef and chicken and burgers to the
various and sundry inhabitants of Davy Jones locker to a list of
all-too-ambitious daily specials. The food was barely passable and, in some
cases, beneath contempt. My wife's broiled herb- and breadcrumb-encrusted
grouper wasn't bad, but the accompanying basmati rice wasn't just gloppy, it
was positively mush; and the sautéed spinach was so well done it was actually
My club sandwich was monstrous -- huge slabs of obviously
processed turkey breast interspersed with slices of Swiss cheese and tomato --
and disgustingly dry. The fries were completely unremarkable, and the dressing
on the side of coleslaw exhibited the taste and texture of Elmer's Glue-All.
Except for the homemade rolls and dessert, dinner was an
When I learned through the culinary grapevine that major
changes had taken place -- but the same owners/chef remained -- I must confess
that I was still somewhat skeptical. But several recent visits have convinced
me that, both decoratively and gastronomically, these metamorphoses have
yielded remarkable improvements. The décor -- now boasting dark woods, French
café posters, and crisp white cloth napkins -- has gone decidedly upscale& as
has the cuisine. The kitchen, as they say, has apparently found itself and now
delivers the goods.
Among the starters, salads acquit themselves very well. The
traditional Caesar ($7.00), for example, features pristinely fresh bite-size
segments of romaine lettuce tossed with a zesty Worcestershire-tinctured
dressing and embellishment of crispy garlic croutons and topping of Parmesan
curls. The frisée salad ($9.00), on the other hand, boasts feathery fronds and
a mouth-watering amalgam of poached pear, toasted pecans, earthy crumbles of
blue cheese, and crispy (and exceedingly salty) prosciutto chips. The
consummating touch is an invigorating but not overpowering cider-Dijon
Other preludes include a top-notch crostini decked out with
roasted tomatoes, buffalo mozzarella, and artistic drizzle of basil oil
($8.00), good (but not exceptional) jumbo lump crab cake with a first-rate
chipotle-roasted pepper aîoli $10.00), tuna tartar timbale with seaweed
salad ($11.00), and artichoke fritters with marinara sauce ($7.00).
Entrée-wise, pastas have a great deal to recommend them.
Particularly noteworthy is the chicken and artichokes aglio e olio
($16.00). The chicken strips are moist and tender, not at all dry, and tossed
with strands of perfectly cooked angel hair pasta. A tincture of lemon,
sprinkling of Italian parsley, and freshly grated Parmesan offer very nice
finishing touches. The fettuccini Alfredo ($15.00) is infinitely richer in character
but still quite good. Tender chicken strips abound here as well, as do chunks
of grilled spicy andouille sausage. Morsels of torn spinach and
caramelized onions add immeasurably to the mix.
Seafood selections include a marvelous porcini-dusted halibut
filet resting on a pillow of mashed potatoes accompanied by artichoke hummus
and parsley oil ($25.00). The "Fisherman's Platter" ($21.00) is another superb
selection. Salmon and tilapia are of the highest quality and done to a turn;
the shrimp are at the peak of good health and appropriately crunchy; and the
crab imperial is succulently sweet. A winner on all counts.
Carnivores, on the other hand, should feel right at home
with the 10-ounce filet mignon ($27.00). On the regular printed menu, it is
topped with crispy artichokes, chèvre cheese, and a balsamic reduction
drizzle. It does, however, make frequently guest appearances among the daily
specials. On one occasion, it arrives replete with a decadent foie gras demi-glace;
on another, the supporting cast includes a buttermilk-blue cheese filled portobello
mushroom and heady cabernet reduction sauce.
Since the Black Lab Bistro is also a bakery, desserts
are worth saving room for. Recently sampled, for example, were a fabulous
cinnamon bun ice cream sandwich ($6.00) and a down-home warm apple crisp served
up with vanilla ice cream ($6.00). Confirmed chocoholics, of course, will also
want to check out the flourless triple chocolate torte with chocolate mousse
and Frangelica crème. Other possibilities include a chèvre cheesecake
with Grand Marnier strawberries, banana rum crepes with toasted praline pecans,
and warm chocolate ravioli with vanilla ice cream and caramel sauce. Be
prepared to kiss your diet good-bye!
I'm not quite sure what beneficent forces are at work at the
Black Lab Bistro, but I am of the opinion that it is never a
good idea to look a gift horse in the mouth. Suffice it to say that the
establishment's transformation from a lowly neighborhood "joint" dishing out
eminently forgettable fodder to an attractive upscale eatery serving up cuisine
that is both carefully prepared and artfully presented has been nothing short
I now highly recommend this charming BYOB on all counts.
The Artful Diner
Diner is an independent, freelance food writer. His latest review and an archive of past reviews for restaurants around the country and the world can be found on this site on the REVIEWS page.
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