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Blue Smoke


CathyL
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Last night was our first visit, and we're eager to go back. The decor is down-home funky, filtered through Manhattan sensibilities - as it should be. Noisy, but then every table was full.

We really liked the food, beginning with the addictive barbecue potato chips. The hot, puffy fry bread is delicious, although the accompanying chipotle butter (also delicious) was too cold to spread.  The chilled smoked foie gras is excellent - brilliant concept, very well executed. I like fat.  :biggrin:

I shared the Rhapsody in 'Cue combo with a friend. Good thing, because it would have been too much for me. The spareribs pulled cleanly off the bone, with just the right 'snap'  (I don't want the meat to fall off), had a rich smoky taste and a nice dry-rub crust; I preferred them to my pal's baby backs. The brisket (from the fattier point section rather than the flat) was tender & juicy. The pulled pork was also well-flavored but I thought the texture was slightly mushy. The hot links are rousingly spiced.  

Good sides - coleslaw is a bit sweet for my taste, roasted asparagus (I wanted collards, but my pals insisted we order at least one relatively fat-free thing) is great, and I couldn't stop eating the onion rings.  Mac & cheese is rich and slightly tangy; the chili would make a Texan frown (it has beans) but it's yummy.

No one had room for dessert but we forged ahead anyway. Home-made vanilla ice cream in the hot fudge sundae; beautiful rhubarb crisp, with a perfect sweet/tart balance. And the sticky toffee pudding is unbelievable: caramel so dark and intense it's not even sweet, rich/moist cake, whipped crème fraîche, toasted pecans.

We didn't order the toffee pudding; our server offered it with her compliments, "because I heard you talking about it."  Service overall was professional, attentive-but-not-too and warm.

Danny Meyer stopped by and asked if we'd tried the condiments (dry rub, seasoned salt, barbecue sauce).   I told him his barbecue is good enough to stand alone, which is the highest compliment I can pay.  The Magic Dust rub is terrific, by the way - I want to try it the next time I smoke a pork butt.

After all the bashing Blue Smoke has gotten, I'm happy to applaud Danny and his talented crew for taking a big risk, and pulling it off with their usual style & quality. Ignore the silly dithering about whether the food is 'authentic' barbecue! Go and enjoy.

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  • 5 months later...

While watching the Rangers stink at home for yet another game, I was wondering where to get a quick bite afte the game was over. I didn't want to stray too far (that means within a 15 block radius) and I didn't want it to be a big deal. And since I was with a "wine friend," the place had to have a reasonable list of wine. As we walked down Seventh Avenue, freezing in our state of semi-disgust I asked, "hey, how about some about barbecue." It was that easy and away we went in a taxi. This was going to be my first time at Blue Smoke. When the place first opened it was so jammed, and I didn't want to wait on line for two hours. So I sort of forgot about it.

The first thing that struck me about Blue Smoke was how large the place was. From reading the reviews and reports, I got the impression that it was a more intimate and discriminating type of BBQ place. How surprised was I when we walked into an upscale version of Virgil's BBQ. Actually, the place is about the same level of decor as a place like the East Coast Grill in Boston. One or two levels above a theme restaurant. And I was also surprised to see that the place was so busy. I would say that when they sat us (9:30pm), there were only 3 or 4 available tables and the bar was packed with people watching the World Series. Before they opened, I remember reading an artcicle where Danny Meyer (one of the owners of Blue Smoke) tasted wines with BBQ to see what matched well. Accordng to Danny, the grand winner was champagne. So I wasn't surprised when the wine list started out with a few selections of good champagne by the glass. I settled in with a glass of Billecourt Salmon Brut Rose and my dining companion ordered a 2000 Huet Vouvray Clos de Bourg..

We flipped the menu over (you know you're dealing with wine people when they read the wine list first,) asked the waitress for a description of the various styles of ribs (there are three different types,) and decided the only sensible thing to do was to order the rib sampler which had all three types. We put our order in along with some sweet potato fries, crispy potato chips and creamed spinach. About 20 minutes later our ribs and sides showed up. When they place it down in front of me, I asked the waitress if there was a certain order they recommend eating them in. She looked at me in a puzzled way and said "what do you mean?" I said you know like when you get a cheese sampler, they recommend you eat them in a certain order. She said, "that's right, they do do that with a cheese plate don't they?" She then went on to say that there is no special way to eat the ribs. Just dig in. Oh well.

I have to say that these ribs were about the meatiest ribs I ever had. Both the St. Louis and the Texas ribs were about as meaty as I've ever seen rins come off a rack. And good quality meat too. The Babybacks were a less impressive piece of meat. Not much different from what I remember getting from Bobby Rubino's back in the day. But the taste of barbecue, where was it? There was none. The meat tasted good but where the hell was the taste of smoked meat? Did they smoke these things? It was the plainest and blandest barbecue I had ever tasted. What tasted great in the first few bites melted into eating the equivelent of grilled ribs that weren't even basted in a good BBQ sauce. The sides fare no better. They didn't exactly possess lots of flavor. Our conversation, which was sort of perky because we were excited to eat Q, fell to a hush while we both knew that we were in bland land. And while my glass of champagne was good on its own, we were both trying to figure out what made it go well with champagne?

Chalk another one off the list. Why places like this are popular beats me. Haven't the people ever tasted real barbecue before?

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Interesting. Nick N noted lack of smoke too. I liked my brisket enormously. It was smokey.

Some previous threads.

http://forums.egullet.org/ibf/index.php?s=...3&hl=blue+smoke

http://forums.egullet.org/ibf/index.php?s=...3&hl=blue+smoke

http://forums.egullet.org/ibf/index.php?s=...e%20smoke&st=30

Steve, maybe the smoke is downstairs in the jazz club.

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I've only been once and need to go back. The brisket was smoky on my visit; the pulled pork and ribs were not, although all three were moist and tender. Steve, did you try the smoked foie gras? Quite something. :biggrin:

Danny Meyer & company took on a huge challenge with Blue Smoke and it's definitely a work in progress. I understand they're constantly tinkering with the equipment to intensify the smoke flavor.

Meyer never claimed he was aiming for 'real barbecue,' but of course it's impossible to avoid comparison with Q joints in Texas or North Carolina. Or Kansas City, for that matter.

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I'd be happy with less then real, but good barbecue. But the smoke to meat ratio has to resemble barbecue. The fact that they use better quality meat that is tender is a big improvement. But that is more then offset by the lack of smokiness. I will return to try the smoked foie and brisket. But I have to admit I am starting out as a doubter.

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The fact that they use better quality meat that is tender is a big improvement. But that is more then offset by the lack of smokiness.

Sounds like they use initial tenderness to mask the fact that they aren't doing long, slow smoking. I'm a recent convert to smoke-cooking (and you know how converts can be) but it is my observation that smoking does not depend on a tender cut of meat--in fact, often the opposite is true.

Dave Scantland
Executive director
dscantland@eGstaff.org
eG Ethics signatory

Eat more chicken skin.

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Steve-

Thanks for the report.

I eat there for lunch fairly often- it's close by and a reasonable, yet "impressive" place to take visitors. It's amazed me that it smells so good inside, yet is so mediocre- it's the great nose, bad wine syndrome. . Pulled Pork sandwich is OK, as are some of the sides. From the look of it, it's a franchise waiting to happen- despite the quality.

Cheers,

Charles

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Why places like this are popular beats me. Haven't the people ever tasted real barbecue before?

In two words, probably not.

Thanks for the update. We ate there a few months after it opened. We had the sampler plate, and the smoked chicken. The sampler was fair to good: the sausage was spicy and tasty, but with an almost impenetrably tough casing; the brisket was a bit on the tough side with not much smoke; the ribs (I forget which style) were okay; the pulled pork was tender but again, not smoky enough. The chicken was excellent: moist, full of both chicken AND smoke flavor. The potato salad was a classic, one of the best I've ever had. And the white bread from Amy's was perfect for wiping grease off fingers.

I just hope that the service has improved. At the time we were there, it was totally clueless -- highly un-Danny-Meyerish.

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Dave, even prime brisket is tough as nails.

Poultry seems to absorb smoke more readily than meat, or maybe it's just because the flavor is subtler to begin with. When I started smoking I was so entranced with it that I poured on a lot. I find I'm happier now with much less.

I'll investigate the possibility of an eGullet visit...

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I must have all the luck. Though I've experienced minor, expected, new-restaurant inconsistency at Blue Smoke I've always had smoky, tender, expertly crafted barbecue. That Niman Ranch meat is some of the best I've ever had at any barbecue place, and I totally don't buy the argument that worse meat makes better barbecue. I've made two passes through barbecue country in the past year, sampling extensively in North Carolina, South Carolina, and Texas, so I have a good sense memory of what the benchmarks are (and in the more distant past I've been to the better places in Memphis and Kansas City). Although the aesthetics of Blue Smoke are not for me, the barbecue alone has seemed very professional. I'd call much of it competition-quality. I'll be the first to complain that the kitchen needs to get its act together in terms of reproducible results, but it doesn't make any sense that people are reporting a lack of smoky flavor. I don't doubt the reports, but I have no idea how it could occur. The smokers are the exact same ones used at so many of the good places in the barbecue belt. They're constantly being fed with tons of wood. The meat is clearly spending enough time in there. The ventilation equipment is state-of-the-art. The smoke ring has been visible to me everywhere it should have been. I can't explain it.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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Why places like this are popular beats me. Haven't the people ever tasted real barbecue before?

In two words, probably not.

I'm not so sure. I've had a decent amount of barbecue--Sticky Fingers in Charleston to the Hog Pit in NY, and I think the BBQ is good at Blue Smoke. I'm wondering whether the lack of, or at least paucity of, smokey sauces is what people miss at BS?

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...but it doesn't make any sense that people are reporting a lack of smoky flavor. I don't doubt the reports, but I have no idea how it could occur. The smokers are the exact same ones used at so many of the good places in the barbecue belt. They're constantly being fed with tons of wood. The meat is clearly spending enough time in there. The ventilation equipment is state-of-the-art. The smoke ring has been visible to me everywhere it should have been. I can't explain it.

The more I read about BBQ on this board, the more I conclude that there is a mysticism around the process. There is some undefined knack, trick, instinctive process that goes into "real" BBQ which maybe even the experts don't realize they're applying. It's like watching an expert throw a pizza dough. You ask them how they contrive to spin and throw it exactly at the right speed, and how they catch it without tearing it, and they usually say "I don't know, I just do it".

Maybe Blue Smoke is too dependent on the equipment, and doesn't have that instinctive expert running the equipment ? From your list, FatGuy, I wonder if "state-of-the-art ventilation" is the problem. Maybe a "real" BBQ has to be smokey and unventilated ?

I was planning a trip to Blue Smoke on my next trip, but now I wonder :huh:

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Meyer never claimed he was aiming for 'real barbecue,'

I wonder why not? He invested the time, effort and money in equipment and expertise. Why wouldn't he aspire to "realness"?

Macrosan is absolutely right that there is a kind of "mysticism", as he puts it, surrounding barbecue. But it's mostly poker game talk, designed to throw the competition off their game. Steve and the FG have said that barbecue is and should be reproducible from venue to venue and from day to day. I agree. The only explanation I can think of for reported inconsistency at Blue Smoke might arise from different cooks not following the instructions or not yet having learned the rhythm of the smoke. If they're taking stuff off the grill too soon in order to meet demand, that would be bad.

Who said "There are no three star restaurants, only three star meals"?

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Well I'm not sure why anyone would be surprised that BS might not be serving Q at the same intensity as "real" Q places. Places like the original Pearson's blow the place out of the water. Across the board, the theme at DM restaurants seems to be to water down the product to make it more accessable to a larger marketplace. But when it's in the upscale places, you can look at it as an affectation. Like they printed the menu in large letters so people who aren't used to eating at that level can see the menu better. But when you apply that strategy to street food, it can make things pretty bland.Go to the hot dog stand in Madison Square Park. A more goyische, not from New York hot dog with toppings worthy of a farmer from Nebraska you have never seen this side of the Hudson. In fact, in my Rabbi's sermon on shabbas he mentioned it in the same sentence as ham. So when I went to BS, I was preparing myself for some dilution of real Q. But this went slightly beyond the pale. Like FG said (and I did originally as well,) the quality of the meat is a big improvement. But the lack of smoke nullifies that improvement. Hopefully DM won't open a kosher style deli as I'm sure the pastrami will taste like Oscar Meyer bologna.

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If you're using all the right equipment and ingredients, how exactly do you "water down" the 'cue? Since it's cooked over smoke, the only explanation I can think of is to depart from the commandment: "low and slow". I wonder if they parboil any of the meats?

Steve, do you hold the same opinion of all Meyer restaurants, that they are "watered down"? Does this include Craft?

Who said "There are no three star restaurants, only three star meals"?

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Craft is Colicchio only -- no Danny Meyer involvement.

I agree (if it wasn't clear already) that barbecue is mostly a question of regulated assembly-line production. It's all about controlling the variables to create a consistent product. Maybe there are some small roadside pits in the South where a grizzled pitmaster employs mystical, seat-of-the-pants technique to create a special experience but all the big, famous, noteworthy places in Lexington, Memphis, Kansas City, Lockhart, etc., are basically running at a mass-production clip. The thing I can't reconcile is the tenderness at Blue Smoke. The meat is tender. You can't get it that way unless you cook it at a low temperature for a long time. Now because the primary heat source on these ovens -- including in most barbecue places in the barbecue belt -- is gas, there can be more or less wood brought into play. You could conceivably cook the meat for a week and forget to load the logs into the smoke box and you'd get a cooked but not smoky product. But if you're going to do that, why go to all the trouble to put in more than a million dollars of ventilation and scrubbing equipment just so you can smoke with wood? (Yes, I think they're aware that the idea is to trap the smoke in the unit for a time before ventilating -- the ducts are regulated in order to allow for this.) And what are they doing with all that wood anyway? It's not just decorative. I've been in the kitchen there for a tour and there was definitely wood in the smoke boxes. And I don't see it as a watering-down attempt. Barbecue is about the least challenging food in the world. The taste for smoked meats is well acquired by the American dining public at every level. Our national food is the hot dog, for crying out loud. We are a nation of bacon eaters. Jerky is near the checkout line at every roadside convenience store in the nation. Fake-tasting smoked cheeses are ubiquitous. Even smoked salmon is popular all over the joint now. If you wanted to dumb down a barbecue place you'd put a sweet, sticky sauce on some oven-baked ribs to which you had applied a liquid smoke formula. You wouldn't avoid smoke. You'd fake it.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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Craft isn't a Meyer restaurant.

Yes I do think they are all watered down and I thought I said that (or at least implied it) in my prior post. Of course the fact they they offer diners a user friendly approach to upper middle dining doesn't mean you can't eat well at the restaurants. In fact I have had excellent meals at all of them. It's just that I see the food as not swinging for the fences so that they make sure everyone "gets it." Lots of singles and doubles on the menus with an occassional stroke of brilliance like Eleven Mad's flan (it's some green veggie I forget) or Gramercy's roast pork belly.

If you have never been to Craft I think you would like it (in fact I was there last night.) It's sort of an extension of the Italian way of doing things applied to an American style menu. Even the raw fish course strikes me as more Italian then Japanese or South American as the thin slices are lightly dressed and showered with some type of chopped of shredded vegetable.

Fat guy - The way you would dumb down Q is to lower the amount of smoke in your end product and to use overly lean meat. This isn't only a BS phenomenon. The ribs I had flown in from the Salt Lick in Austin were lightly smoked compared to what I've had in the past. But they met what I think is an acceptable level of smokiness so they therefore were deemed delicious by Plotnicki. These fell short although as you pointed out, they are clearly the meatiest and most tender ribs I've ever had.

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