Whom you're with can make all the difference.
When it comes to sharing a meal, as much as the ambience, the service and even the food, your dining partners can influence how you observe and remember a dining experience. I was jolted into realizing this by my recent visits to the Belvidere at Broad. Both were positive. The restaurant's renditions of new American cuisine are clean, fresh and attentively prepared. The servers are that exceptional blend of friendly and invisible. And the place already has a sense of history and the vibe of revitalization creeping west along Broad.
The girls and me, Tuesday at 5: Early enough for ya? Yep, we're here at 5:30 p.m. and we're hungry and we want one of everything five minutes ago, and our 4-year-old won't break your glassware, trust us. We expect you to be on point already, even though you've scarcely exhaled that last puff before the doors open.
Our server is the kind who makes you consider becoming a regular. She engages my daughter with good humor while keeping pace with what her exhausted parents are trying to communicate. When the appetizers — bruschetta, house-smoked salmon and crab cakes — arrive, we are impressed. It takes a bit longer than some of us are used to waiting, but it is, as the menu explains, well worth the extra time that attention to detail takes.
The entrees follow at pace and the filet of beef with ruby port demiglace is exactly what I'm looking for in a $28 steak: quick-seared and evenly medium rare, the presiding flavor of the demiglace still beef, but underscored by the sweetness of reduced port. The veggie lasagna is beautifully flavored but the pasta suffers from the refiring. The herbed brown rice and string beans are steaming hot and freshly prepared. Considering how often sides are overlooked, it's noteworthy when someone gets it right. And our 4-year-old isn't the only one who appreciates perfect rice.
A couple of old hacks camping at table 1: It's a Saturday night. The place is packed. Luckily we manage to sneak from the bar to the booth farthest back, godfather rule. It's difficult to describe my companion's glee at being on the other side of the line for a change, and on somebody else's dime to boot. That's definitely for the best; beyond embodying the older-school philosophy of Bourdain's kitchen crew, my friend is also a bona fide sailor and Irish. Try as I might I can't get him to disengage from analyzing everything and just eat. But that's like asking a drummer not to tap along with the rhythm he hears in his head.
I mean, there are some other words in there, but mostly it's just cursing. Here's an abridged version:
The efficiency of the menu equals ability to focus plate by plate: Henry Ford, son. Zen and the pivot foot of the two-station dance. The small menu works because crossovers from app to entrAce, from entrAce to salad to sandwich, make sense for a place with 36 seats. Bar and grill meets bistro Asian-American Southern eclecticism seems pretty familiar these days, but narrow focus allows for real attention to detail and consistency. The design allows for streamlined stocking of staples complemented by local produce. One of each typical protein: filet of beef, tuna steak, salmon, chicken and shrimp. You could visualize how smoothly and efficiently this joint could run. How little waste. You could really nail your food costs down. Quite practically run a two-cook line. You could have a good time doing it.
Everything is better than we expect. The fillet of beef on baguette is worth returning for. The hummus platter is better than average and big enough to share with drinks after work. The soy and ginger marinated ahi tuna and the stir-fry trio of asparagus, mushrooms and red peppers again shows attention to detail worth paying and waiting for. And maybe that's it: This is the kind of place I could see having a conversation in, where the servers know when and how to hang back, and good food is a given. And you aren't in a rush. A place to spend a few hours and listen to the music and the other patrons at a distance, and someone you haven't seen in a while. I just wish it were open for lunch.
The Belvidere at Broad ($$)
506 W. Broad St.
Dinner: Tuesday-Saturday 5:30-11 p.m.