Thursday, March 10, 2011

Picture This

Boardwalk Bistro
4100 Broadway
Boardwalk Bistro on Urbanspoon
I don't normally take pictures of food. I've seen enough blog photographs of Combination Plate #4 to be convinced that, barring exceptional understanding of the art, photographs of food are dull viewing. So I surprised even myself when the delivery of a dish to my table yesterday prompted me to run to the car for my little digital camera.

The dish was Boardwalk Bistro's seafood boil, a special concoction for the restaurant's "Mardi Gras Menu," a selection of five special dishes in honour of the nation's greatest city-wide festival of excess. I really wanted the boudin with shrimp and crawfish étoufée, but settled on this more expensive ($15) choice on the ground that it had to be less fattening. I was probably wrong about that, but have no regrets, having not been on a scale in some time.

Last city inspection: March 2010
7 demerits
Boardwalk Bistro is my friend Rick's favourite restaurant, to the point where he exchanges health reports with Cindy, the waitress; so we've been there a number of times. Despite being somewhat pricier than our normal pool of taquerías and coffee-shops, we find it a good venue for the occasional splurge: reliably good, comfortable and clean, with a tempting and varied menu. The atmosphere in the dining room, as I vaguely recall, is cheerful and somewhat chic, though more crowded than cozy. I say this because I remember having to squeeze past people to get to the restroom; but usually we sit outside, on the large deck, where only a too-strong sun, a too-stiff breeze, or episodes of too-loud traffic might blemish the ambiance. 

The starting point for the food at Boardwalk Bistro is the Mediterranean. There's plenty of feta cheese, tzatziki sauce and hummus for those who think the Mediterranean stretches only from Phoenicia to Ionia, but the kitchen here understands "Mediterranean" in a more expansive sense, and includes tastes from all around the inland sea to the Pillars of Hercules, with a few side-trips to more land-locked places for things like knackwurst and sauerkraut. Duck, veal and lamb snuggle up with the triumvirate of beef, chicken and pork, plus their vegetarian step-sister, to make a menu fit for any persnickety palate. Rick, having taken some mild umbrage at my earlier teasing observation that he always ordered the Greek salad here, went instead for the blackened-chicken Caesar salad instead, to prove he could. Our exorbitantly-cheerful friend Peter, whom we'd dragged from his sick-bed for the selfish pleasure of hearing his Orleanian accent, wanted only a bowl of the tortilla soup (Rick and I also ordered cups of that). I, as I started out to say, took on the seafood boil.

Now, tortilla soup is on its way to becoming an iconic dish around here, and it may someday form a Tex-Mex Trinity with enchiladas and breakfast tacos. I was introduced to the stuff about twenty years ago, when one of my good friends, the Hankmeister, embarked upon a quest to find the best tortilla soup in San Antonio. My personal preferences are the soups at (1) Los Barrios, (2) Jim's (!) and (3) Panchito's on McCullough, but these days the ground is thick with Honourable Mentions, and the dish has become something of a playground for chefs who feel the need to make it their own. The chefs at Boardwalk are, it seems, secure enough in their abilities to leave well enough alone: they content themselves with combining traditional ingredients of good quality in generous quantities to make a tasty bowl of soup. If, like me, you want your tortilla soup to have a little kick to it, let your waiter know and the kitchen will oblige.

The Caesar salad with blackened chicken was an outstanding choice. Rick pronounced it so, and his actions backed up his words. He was well into it before I got back with the camera, and came up for air only long enough to describe it as perfectly prepared, with tender chicken, seasoned and seared to wonderment, overlaying fresh, crisp greens coated with a rich, creamy home-made dressing. Then it was gone. I probably wouldn't have taken a picture of it anyway (see above), but it would have been a pretty good picture by my amateur standards.

And then, there's that big ol' seafood boil, a luscious-looking bowl of mussels, crab and shrimp with potatoes and corn, elegantly presented in a rich lobster sauce with a sprinkling of thread-like shoestring potatoes. Delicious, and well worth the mess of eating the shellfish. The sauce was too good to leave, but there is, sadly, no tasteful way to get it out of the bowl, unless you're willing to work with a tiny soup spoon. I tried, but gave up. If you're unconcerned about etiquette, there is a plastic straw handy....

Real andouille is thicker and darker than the smoked
sausage you get at the grocery store. This example is from
the Best Stop, in Scott, Louisiana, and is probably the
best andouille made in the New World.
The only disappointment in the seafood boil was that the sausage, billed on the menu as andouille, was plain ol' country-smoked sausage, à la Eckrich Farms. A small matter, perhaps, but if I'm promised andouille, my mouth isn't going to be satisfied with less.

Boardwalk Bistro has something of a reputation for exquisite desserts, so when our waitress asked about it, and Rick looked thoughtful, I suggested he go for it. He did, probably because he remembered that it was my turn to pick up the check, but he knew he wouldn't be able to fend off the fork-raids. His choice was key lime cheesecake; my choice was an extra fork. Peter expressed no opinion regarding dessert.

The cheesecake itself had a light texture and a delicate flavour, as is appropriate for those bitter little limes; though the graham-cracker crust seemed to lack a bit of richness. By way of enhancement, the dessert came with a delicate coating of crème brulé that, unfortunately, was just a tad too brulé in places. Had I not expected perfection from this restaurant, an expectation born of experience, I might have been more satisfied with it; as it is, I wasn't, entirely. Luckily, though, it wasn't my dessert.

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