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After several incarnations, the Blue Bottle settles on minimalism, at least for now.

Charming Niche

The contents of the Blue Bottle have been shaken considerably since the restaurant opened well over a year ago. Closed for the past summer, the Blue Bottle announced a new format of a fixed-price dinner for the fall, but apparently the Sept. 11 events changed the plans, as they did for many. Open now for dinner only on Friday and Saturday, the Blue Bottle seems to be feeling its way to a new identity, with its fixed-price concept abandoned at least for the time being.

The first incarnation of the Blue Bottle, following on the heels of the owner's beloved Hole in the Wall in the VCU area, attracted a hip crowd, mostly students, as had the former venue where music and food met in a felicitous mix and good value. The good values continue at the Blue Bottle, and the new format seems not so much an attempt to improve the bottom line as a quest to do something different and better.

The Blue Bottle is in the fast-gentrifying section of West Broad with a growing population of energetic professionals and students who like the urban options and convenience offered by the numerous downtown buildings converted to apartments. The unpretentious interior has the comfortable feeling of an established place that's on the urban edge of what's happening.

Managing the food for a restaurant that is open only two nights a week must be a daunting challenge to freshness and profitability, but the key is probably the very circumspect and limited menu.

While looking over the menu on a recent visit, we chose a 1998 pinot noir from a better-than-usual wine list. We decided to begin decadently. A cool fall night seemed right for the silken richness of foie gras in a complementing sauce with chestnuts, blackberries and delicate baked cabbage ($11). My penchant for decadence was beautifully satisfied for the moment with this nicely executed beginning, which two of us shared. We also shared a wonderfully fresh salad ($5) of mescaline and romaine, perfectly and subtly dressed. The salad was too good for my usual indifferent picking and too large for us to finish. Other choices are fresh oysters, salmon croquettes, and baked cabbage ($5 - $7).

After our luxurious beginning, butter-poached lobster ($23) was perhaps too much in the same vein, although our other choices were hardly thrift fare, and as good as it sounded, roasted vegetables with garlic mayonnaise ($15) didn't suit our carnivorous cravings. The dry-aged strip steak ($25) and pan-seared venison-rib chops ($27) were delicious. Mashed potatoes, once diner and lunch-counter "fillers," are now ubiquitous in fine-dining establishments, and I can think of few better accompaniments for meats. A certain minimalism prevailed through our meal, which I appreciate. As a cook, I learned long ago that more is not necessarily better. If you start with first-rate ingredients, you need only a minimum of heat and other flavor enhancers. Nothing was omitted, nor was anything added that didn't need to be there.

We ended with a very accommodating dessert of some fresh berries, a couple of scoops of delicious vanilla ice cream, and a dollop of lightly whipped cream. It was a nice ending to a good dinner.

Part of the charm of our dinner was that our very helpful and accommodating server made us and the dinner special by giving us the luxury of leisure, a bit of pampering, almost as rare as foie gras. I hope the Blue Bottle finds its niche and others discover its charm.

Blue Bottle
200 W. Broad Street (at Jefferson)
Dinner: Friday - Saturday

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