I have no particular agenda when I write about restaurants. Obviously my goal is to eat only in places that succeed in providing the quality of food, service and ambiance (I hate that word, but I can’t think of any better) that they promise. Then, write glowingly about my wonderful experience. And equally obviously that rarely happens. It’s not that I am always disappointed with my experiences, but rarely are they perfect. My home-cooked meals are far from perfect as well, but I can’t bitch about the chef, so I keep my mouth shut and eat the crappy food, but with the knowledge that I will do better next time.
But most restaurants, if they get sufficient buzz, have a reasonably decent look about them, and don’t poison the customers will be able to draw enough of a crowd to pay the bills, and even make some money. There is no reason to tinker with the plan if it’s making money. And that means a plan that doesn’t include consistently good food. Our first visit to Bistro 55 confirmed my suspicion that the restaurant was going to do at least fairly well in spite of the resoundingly mediocre food. I wrote at length about its many shortcomings, and to be fair some of the good things I discovered, but the short list was: chaotic service, a ridiculous burger, no attention to detail in the kitchen or the bar, an excellent beer list and a good wine list, and a really nice looking place. I expected little or no improvement in the things I care about — the food and service — because the crowds were there, even in the beginning. That steady cash flow will mask a multitude of shortcomings.
I was wrong. during our second visit we found the service to be markedly improved; the amiable, friendly but incompetent waiter had become an amiable, friendly and competent waiter. The burned garlic garnish on the otherwise excellent chips had miraculously disappeared. The bar produced an excellent Manhattan to my specifications, and even recommended a particularly good Rye Whiskey that happens to be my favorite. The duck grilled cheese sandwich was a revelation, especially accompanied by the excellent and interesting cole slaw. The West Coast oysters were superb (the Blue Points were just okay). The beer that the owner recommended with the grilled cheese went perfectly. And perhaps most gratifying was the conspicuous absence of a bunch of waiters milling around doing nothing. Everyone seemed to have a purpose, and that purpose was service. What a concept! Now, I didn’t order the burger, because I am not a fool. I knew, deep in my soul, that it would be an even bigger disappointment the second time around. Perhaps in a few months I will once again brave the wilds of over-sized buns and under-sized patties, but we had so much fun on our second visit I might put that off indefinitely. That duck and cheese marvel is enough to draw me back several dozen times, and hopefully by then they will have made the burger a work of art.