At steakhouses or other spots atop the restaurant pyramid, expectations rise with menu prices. When diners head north of the $20 entrée, they want to know if the food is more than acceptable. That’s especially true for people who have saved, schemed and scheduled for the once- or twice-a-year permission to ignore the bean-counter in their heads.
What they seek is a night to remember, with food so good they want to tell friends or memorialize its choicest bites in the digital amber of social media. Heightened expectations are what I thought of when deciding what to tell you about my dinner at Black & Blue. The restaurant made good on its central promise of big steaks and fresh seafood, but the delivery included too many loose ends for me to thrill to the experience. At steakhouse prices, the stakes are higher.
Black & Blue surely presents a spiffy stage. There’s a hostess who will be glad to take your coat, a fireplace under glass, a chandelier dangling from the soaring ceiling whose skeins of glass globes bring to mind champagne bubbles. The restaurant, with siblings in Rochester and Albany, looks much the same as it did when it opened in 2007.
It’s an airy room decorated in earth tones and lots of wavy wood elements to catch wandering eyes. Elevated booths and banquettes look over a central dining area dominated by a glassed-in, two-story wine wall where bartenders climb a spiral staircase to fetch bottles.
Conversation was easy, but hearing our server was hard. Her specials recitation was lost on me, and no written version was proffered.
Black & Blue emphasizes its seafood supply chain, down to individual fishermen featured on its website.
Firm, briny oysters (four for $12) presented on crushed ice with accompaniments (wasabi flying fish eggs, mignonette, cocktail sauce, lemon and a pinky-sized bottle of Tabasco) were thoroughly enjoyable. The server’s assistant offered tasting notes on each type, appreciated even if the verbal presentation left me trying to remember which one had the “light ocean scent.”
A generous serving of black grouper crudo ($12) let us all drag bites of translucent raw fish through puddles of avocado oil and lemon sauce for a fresh bite of the sea.
Fried calamari ($12) tossed with a spray of peppery arugula, escaped boring by the application of cherry peppers and garlic.
Of red snapper ($29) and black grouper ($28) entrees, I preferred the snapper, a flaky fillet served on sweetly charred carrots, brussels sprouts and potatoes. A bacon-sherry cream sauce supplied a satisfying frame of smoky richness. A pair of room-temperature fried clams were rubbery.
Pan-browned grouper arrived on a throne of artichoke hearts, sautéed grape tomatoes, onions, olives and black garlic vinaigrette. Ingredients promising a gutsy roots-Mediterranean combo played like muted Muzak, with disappointingly under-seasoned scallion pesto.
The meat side had its ups and downs, too. Pork belly ($9) scored with a spoon-tender ingot of unsmoked bacon glazed with a sweet Asian barbecue sauce with a five-spice accent. A carrot-cabbage slaw provided needed balance with its crunchy, vegetal astringency.
The 18-ounce porterhouse ($45), ordered medium, arrived mostly gray inside, closer to well done. (Steaks come with a choice of six sauces including classic béarnaise.) The horseradish cream added a welcome jolt of tangy dairy.
The showstopping 28-ounce tomahawk ($70) hit its medium-rare mark dead-on, but was oversalted. That’s coming from a carnivore whose ideal steak boasts a crust of salt and beef fat welded into a miraculous third element that melts on my tongue.
After scraping off a coat of crunchy crystals, I sighed at the luxury of a gorgeous, properly cooked steak. A swipe of the swoonfully aromatic black truffle butter added a delicious note of excess.
Topped with golden toasted breadcrumbs, orzo mac and cheese ($6) was moderately creamy but its cheese flavor had gone missing, a mystery considering the four cheeses mentioned in its description. Hand-cut fries ($7) served with herbed aioli were serviceable but not as crispy as, say, Five Guys. Mushrooms ($8) sautéed with herbs were enjoyably dank and meaty.
Our server was professional, with sound wine recommendations. Yet a request for a Negroni, the classic gin-vermouth-Campari cocktail, returned a drink whose citric flavor had me thinking watery screwdriver.
Desserts included solid standards, like a key lime pie ($8.95) with bracingly zingy lime custard filling, a lush crème brulee ($8.95) capped with a crackly burnt-caramel crust, and peanut butter Oreo chocolate parfait ($9.50) whose layers of peanut butter mousse and ganache could have satisfied two Reese’s fans.
After a meal of ups and downs added up to an average meal, I left with mixed feelings. The combination of prime ingredients and uneven execution at Black & Blue left my wallet feeling slightly bruised.
Black & Blue Steak & Crab - 7 plates (out of 10)
5493 Sheridan Drive, Amherst (839-2525)
Hours: 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and 4:30 to 10 p.m. Monday through Thursday; 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and 4:30 to 11 p.m. Friday; 4 to 11 p.m. Saturday; 4 to 10 p.m. Sunday.
Price range: Starters, $8 to $23; entrees, $22 to $75.
Wheelchair access: Yes.
Gluten-free options: Yes, many dishes.