Bonvenu

A friend from Cleveland came to visit this weekend.  Oddly enough I don’t cook when there’s company in the house.  Instead I plan a series of restaurant forays.  One request from my guest was a trip to the Virginia Diner in Wakefield.  If you’ve never been, you should go.  Yummy Southern food.  But the culinary highlight of the weekend (not counting the Ukrops pimento cheese) was a trip to Bonvenu.

Bonvenu replaced a Carytown institution, The Track.  Honestly I was a little nervous about our visit since on the very day we were to go, there was a very lukewarm review.  I’m happy to say that we had a much better experience than the reviewers.  First, I can say that our server was top notch.  Never were we hurried, nor did we languish without attention.  He waited until each of us had comfortably finished one course before bringing the next.  Among us we ordered two appetizers, 2 salads, a soup and four entrees.  I didn’t try everything, but here are the highlights.

We ordered the Jumbo Lump Crab Nachos and the Shrimp Hushpuppies to start.  The “nachos” are a huge waste.  This is pretty clearly a case of creativity trumping good judgment.  The nachos are actually a bowl of popcorn seasoned with Old Bay with some blobs of mediocre crap dip on the plate.  Really?  Texture – weird.  Flavor – meh.  On completely the other end of the spectrum the Shrimp Hushpuppies are A. Maz. Ing.  Each one is a large, tail-on shrimp dipped in a light hushpuppy batter and fried crisp on the outside and still moist and yummy on the inside.  The sauces served with them are fine, but not at all necessary.

The second course included an arugula salad that looked fine, but not special in any way.  The soup of the night was a white bean with ham.  The report on that was good.  Still, I think I made the best choice here.  I ordered the Grilled Hearts of Romaine.  There was just enough char on the lettuce to make it warm and smoky.  The sweet onions were just that and grilled enough to warm them, but left them crisp.  Yum.  The gorgonzola vinaigrette was a very welcome change from the traditional Caesar.  Creamy and pungent, but not heavy.  My only criticism is the fried okra croutons.  Just not good.  I love fried okra, but it’s meant to be served hot, or even room temperature, and most importantly, crispy.  These okra were fried at some point in the long ago past and served cold and soggy.  Really not good.  That said they were easy to push aside so I could enjoy the rest of the salad.  And I did.

On to the entree course.  Around the table we order the Coffee Crusted Strip; the Lobster Carbonara; the Rack of Lamb; and the Pan Roasted Duck Breast.  Good reviews all around.  I tasted the Lobster Carbonara.  It was good, and maybe better if I’d put all of the elements on my fork.  I like that the egg comes sunny side up on top of the dish for you to mix in.  I ordered the duck.  I often do when it’s on a menu as it’s something I never make at home.  It was perfectly cooked though I understand the reviewers’ complaint that it wasn’t crispy.  Had it been pan seared instead of pan roasted I would have expected it to be crispy as well.  And maybe it should be pan seared.  The corn griddle cakes were the yummiest little pancakes that soaked up the brown butter sauce.  A lovely sweet balance for the sauce.  The baby carrots were a waste.  Premie carrots more than baby carrots and tough as nails.

Overall I’d say that the things they do well they do very well.  Unfortunately there’s about one element per plate, per course that just doesn’t make it.  Fortunately those elements are mostly possible to ignore.  This is not an inexpensive experience though so I’d recommend that they sharpen the edges if they want to follow in the footsteps of their predecessor.

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