Usually the words “Blue Ribbon” don’t conjure in my mind a very high-class image. I think instead of the watery but much-beloved Pabst Blue Ribbon, which kept me and Liz nice and tipsy throughout our college years. Note that PBR was actually cheap and hickish back in Tucson; in New York, it carries with it a whole other set of hipster connotations, so we stick to beer that’s actually cheap, like our current favorite, the Coors tall boy. At 99 cents for 24 ounces, you can’t really go wrong.
But that is beside the point. Upscale restaurant chain Blue Ribbon has done the seemingly impossible — made me think of something other than beer when I hear those two words. Now I think “mmm, upscale restaurant chain.” I went to the Park Slope incarnation for an anniversary dinner with my beau, and we both emerged from it pleased to have finally gotten around to trying this old place.
We got there early to beat the lines, which can be pretty brutal (no reservations are taken, except for large parties). We waltzed right in and got a seat near the wine cellar (perhaps a misnomer, since it was on ground level). Inspired by the wine, and by our existing interest in all things alcoholic, we decided to order a bottle of the very affordable 2006 Chateau D’orschwihr “Bollenberg” Riesling, which was just lovely, refreshing without being overly sweet. It made an ideal accompaniment to the humid summer evening and, later, to our food. While we sipped our wine and snacked on bread and butter, we noted the graceful and polite yet not suffocatingly attentive service provided by the waitstaff, which made the evening even more pleasant.
Blue Ribbon seems to focus on comfort food, as interpreted by a variety of cultures. Seafood features heavily in their offerings, from the raw bar, which lures passersby from the front window, to the fresh fish of the day, to a number of other fish (including one of my favorites, trout) that reside on the regular menu. Chris opted for a seafood-rich dish himself, the Paella Basquez ($32), though he was intrigued by the prospect of trying to consume the Paella Royale ($115), which contains, among other delicacies of the sea, a whole lobster. The Paella Basquez was everything a paella should be: saffron-laden without being overpowering, with flavorful rounds of spicy chicken sausage punctuating the steaming rice along with chicken, shrimp and calamari, all crowned with a layer of succulent clams and mussels. There were at least two meals to be had from this hefty dish. Chris was thoroughly impressed, and so was the couple sitting next to us; upon seeing the waiter bring us our food, they swore to order the paella next time.
I opted for what I’d heard was Blue Ribbon’s most popular dish, the Fried Chicken ($25). A full half chicken in pieces, fried to an impeccable golden brown (and done right, so the skin didn’t fall off once during the eating process), this is no namby-pamby high-class treatment of fried chicken. A side of honey was provided for this American classic, and for this I was grateful, as the chicken itself was, well, a little bland. Yes, maybe I’ve been raised on salt-and MSG-laden KFC, but if I’m going to order a plate of fried chicken, subtlety is not something I’m looking for. The sides, on the other hand, were dead-on. Mashed potatoes with brown gravy and crispy, salty collard greens provided the perfect backdrop for the chicken while reenforcing the theme of comfort food done right.
Without even ordering appetizers or dessert, we still managed to take home enough leftovers for another meal, something you can rarely say after going out to a fancy dinner. We left full and happy, and eager to return. We’re already planning what we’ll order on our next visit (I have my eye on the duck confit and the bone marrow appetizer), but it might be a while, as we are poor. This is not to say that this is a particularly expensive restaurant — as nice restaurants go, it’s suprisingly affordable. Still, for someone who thinks PBR has gotten too expensive, this here is fancy eatin’.