Working in the hospitality industry, we try to stay up to date on the local dining scene so we can make good, honest recommendations to our guests. Matt Canning, our resident Beer Concierge, stopped by Bluebird Tavern recently to check out the eats and what’s on tap.
A Beer Concierge’s Restaurant Review
The life of a Beer Concierge isn’t all research on hops and malts, a man’s got to eat.
It’s official, the Bluebird is back. Although it never closed, there was a stretch of time when the Bluebird fell out of the local diners consciousness. As my most recent experienced validated, that time has passed. Executive chef Eric Martelle is the architect of a new menu comprised of imaginative small plates highlighting local produce, meats and New England seafood.
This past Tuesday, my girlfriend, Bridget, and I choose Bluebird as a dinner refuge from the snow apocalypse known as winter storm Juno. The choice to sit at the bar over the dinning area was made easy by noticing local wine geek and Bluebird bartender Scott Christian holding his post. Scott works at Dedalus Wine shop on Battery Street in addition to tending bar, he is unflappable when I ask him vague, open ended questions like “what’s the story with this menu?” I like that.
Bluebird has always been on my radar due to it having a dedicated Hill Farmstead draft line, one of only four restaurants in town to lay claim to such beer prestige. On this evening they were pouring Edward, Hill Farmstead’s flagship beer. Edward is a highly crushable American Pale Ale, hop forward and clean, this beer is well balanced and finishes crisp, like everything Hill does. I opted for the Zero Gravity Oyster Stout. This beer brewed not more then 200 yards down St. Paul Street at American Flatbread/Zero Gravity is an Irish style dry stout brewed with Pemaquid (Maine) oyster shells provided by Bluebird after a recent oyster event. The stout was malty and dry with the slightest essence of salt and brine, at 4.5% ABV it was a low risk start to the evening. From there we gave Scott our wine preferences and price ceiling and let him select a bottle.
Jason Zuliani, the owner of Dedalus Wine shop and partner in the Bluebird Group, has constructed a wine list focusing on French, natural wines, made with limited chemical or technological intervention. Scott choose us a 2009 Domaine Leon Barral, this Carignan, Granache, Cinsault blend was a perfect fit for the stormy weather and bounty of food to come. We enjoyed learning about the winemaker, his family’s biodynamic practices, and their preservation of 50-year-old vines.
My intention when asking vague and open-ended menu questions is to give the server or bartender the opportunity to provide their personal insight, and help drive us through the menu. I insisted on starting with the rabbit and pork terrine, after my initial assertion Scott took the wheel and drove us to flavor country. Unfortunately, the terrine was underwhelming and least enjoyable dish. The rabbit was indecipherable from the pork and brought no significant flavor to the dish, a bit dry and under seasoned. Next, Scott insisted we try the Easter Radish, by practice I usually don’t order $10 radish dishes but I am sure glad we did. Featuring three varieties of radish, easter, breakfast and watermelon radish all from Jericho Settler’s Farm. The uncooked radishes floated atop of a preserved lemon and parsnip puree and were accompanied by bundles of trout roe. The sweet and tart lemon and salty roe played perfectly with the crisp root vegetable. This was the most surprising, impressive, and visually appealing dish of the night. The Easter Radish is a perfect representation of the Bluebird’s culinary prowess.
Upon Scott’s second recommendation we ordered the Ricotta Dumplings. This was the perfect dish for “surviving” winter storm Juno. The pillowy potato dumplings were a larger and softer version of gnocchi, paired with roasted butternut squash and finished with brown butter and sage. This dish is the essence of winter; root vegetables, cheese, butter and herbs, I only wish it were larger, five times larger.
Soon after we sat at the bar the conversation shifted towards rabbit. That night, the Bluebird had three menu items featuring rabbit including Scott’s favorite dish the braised rabbit leg. Bridget and I were anxious to put in our rabbit order but Scott insisted we address our seafood desires before finishing with the bunny. Bluebird’s seafood options are extensive, oysters, scallops, octopus, lobster and fish. We elected the Artic Char. Char is a coldwater cross between a salmon and a trout. I have always appreciated how unique each piece of char can be, always flakey but some are opaque like cod and others vibrant and pink like a sockeye salmon. On Tuesday night, our char was impersonating a salmon. The meat was pink and the exceptionally pan seared skin ranged from a steal grey to metallic. The fish was perched atop a base of mild house made yogurt, a landing of purple and white treviso lettuce, and finished with salty pancetta. The fatty fish, refreshing yogurt, crunch of lettuce and smoke from the pancetta provided a true spectrum of flavor.
Our intended finishing dish turned out to be our second to last. Finally, we were on to the Rabbit Leg. Contrary to some of the other more intricate dishes the rabbit leg is simple. A braised leg bathes in a champion broth with scattered olives and grilled bread. The broth, a coalescence of pheasant stock, rabbit stock and reduced dry white Burgundy is unabbreviated and delicious. A well-balanced mix of roasted marrow, dry and slightly sweet wine, salty olives and cured pork, its nice to know the chef Martelle isn’t trying to over think this dish. The rabbit leg was fall off the bone tender, which made sense when falling into the broth.
With so much momentum, and two glass pours of wine left in the decanter I could not throw in the towel. All of Bluebird’s pastas are made in house and chef Martelle’s signature dish could be his Bucatini. Bridget thought it excessive but I insisted we finish with this bowl of happiness. The bucatini are shorter more muscular pieces of spaghetti encompassed by house made marinara with succulent pieces of braised lamb neck and blanketed by sharp pecorino. This dish is hard to categorize as anything but exquisite, part braised tripe stew, part pasta all good.
The meal was complete, we deferred on desert but Scott provided it anyway. A mason jar filled with airy chocolate moose, topped with chocolate crumble and highlighted by bright specs of fresh mint, the gift was well received.
The experience at Bluebird, over embellished winter storm or not, was a delicious experience. The service and creative, well executed, menu has Bluebird deserving to be held among Burlington’s best restaurants.