I threw caution to the wind last weekend and did something I never do. I dined at a new restaurant on opening weekend. After spending 13 years in the hospitality industry in my first career, I knew better. “Don’t do it!” I told myself. “Let them work out the kinks first so you won’t be disappointed.”
Raising an eyebrow, I wondered to myself: Should I do it anyway?
Yes! Yes, I should, because after all of their social media posts, teasing us for months with accolades about Chef Ashleigh Fleming — a graduate of The Culinary Institute of America — pictures of the gorgeous interior and beautifully plated food, reading that Our State Magazine called it “stunningly designed,” I have to!
So I did. I dined at a new restaurant — Blue Jay Bistro in Littleton — on opening weekend, and I set my expectations at an appropriate level. And I’m here to tell you that my expectations couldn’t have been more wrong, because the experience was top notch from start to finish and not what I have seen at other opening weekends.
I’m not going to give away all the goodies Blue Jay Bistro has in store when you go — there are too many to name, and even I look forward to discovering more — so I’ll touch on some highlights of a meal shared by three people Friday night.
It all started with great service from beginning to end. Everyone was friendly and engaging, servers and managers stopped by our table to check in often, and if staff didn’t know answers to our questions, they found out and got back to us.
Our server was Tyler, who was full of personality, menu suggestions, and had a great smile. But more about him later.
The selections we made from the drink menu, which features signature cocktails, beer, and wine by the glass or bottle, included a Blueberry Gin Fizz — an elegant cocktail made from pea flower-infused gin, blueberry syrup, lemon juice, and foamed egg white on top — and an Apple Butter Old Fashioned — made with rye bourbon, bitters, muddled orange, local apple jam and a beautiful garnish.
The gin fizz, a layered cocktail with heavier liquid (the syrup) on the bottom, lighter (the gin) on the top, was to be swirled to mix before drinking. Two fresh blueberries were on the bottom.
Both drinks were delicious, and I preferred the Old Fashioned even though bourbon isn’t usually my preference.
Being able to watch the bartenders work their magic from across the room was a real treat throughout the evening, as it left no doubt that the mixed drinks were truly craft cocktails, with house-made syrups and purees being poured from bottles and twist-top jars.
Another cocktail ordered later was the bartender’s choice. We forgot to ask what it was, but it was creamy and delicious and clearly included a homemade peach puree, with tiny bits of fresh peach fibers in it.
For appetizers, or what the menu calls Shareables, we ordered three of the four selections: Hams and Jams, the bistro’s take on charcuterie; Wild Catter Oysters; and Blue Jay’s Nest Late Summer Edition.
Hams and Jams includes assorted cured and smoked meats, mustard, daily bread, truffle honey, and seasonal jam. On our visit the bread was three large country-style biscuits, and the seasonal jam was made from gooseberries, which come in various colors and are a good source of Vitamin C. Fresh, green gooseberries — which the bistro buys from a farmer in Durham — garnished the wooden platter and were fun to eat, mostly sweet and a few tart.
Our party felt the large biscuits may not have been the best accompaniment for traditional charcuterie meats, and that a smaller, less Southern bread choice would have been better, especially for a shareable. Or if biscuits are the thing, make them smaller and sub out the prosciutto for some thinly sliced country ham.
For the oyster lovers out there, or even those who just “like” them, definitely order the fried Wild Catter Oysters, which are served on the half shell with a slice of marinated wagyu strip loin, a1-41 sauce, and pepper aioli. Six to a shareable plate, and you’re not going to want to share, but do it anyway because we’re just getting started. Trust me, you don’t want to skip dessert!
The bistro’s signature Blue Jay’s Nest is a plate of pea flower deviled eggs (yep, the same pea flower coloring that infused the gin fizz), with slab bacon garnish on top, toasted rye crumb, potato nests, and petite salad comprised of microgreens. These aren’t your Sunday covered dish deviled eggs, folks. The filing is creamy and mustard based, so ideal for those who aren’t into mayonnaise. Dip these into the rye crumb for a little crunch, and you have a great one-bite app.
For our entrees, we knew in advance we’d be having leftovers the following day, but that’s all right. There was just too much we wanted to try, so we ordered, from Small Plates & Salads, the Beef Tartar, and from Entrees, the Wagyu Strip, which came with pommes aligot, roasted broccoli, fried rosemary, and espresso butter, and Pork Chop, brined in sweet tea and accompanied by warm marble potato salad.
The flavorful Beef Tartar was described by staff as being the chef’s playful interpretation of a chain-restaurant’s famous burger, with its special sauce, pea shoots, aged cheddar powder, dill pickles, crispy onion ring, and fried sesame saltines. The crackers were the favorite part of the dish for everyone at the table.
The Wagyu Strip is the most expensive entree on the menu and is priced well below where it should be for what is arguably the best beef on the planet. Blue Jay Bistro’s — cooked perfectly medium-rare as requested — did not disappoint. Neither did the cheesy creamed potatoes served with it. The plate was garnished with fried rosemary, a bold choice given that you either love it or you hate it. I happen to love it, but a little goes a long way, and I found the aroma to be overpowering. If I order the steak again, I’ll request that the rosemary be omitted.
The star of the savory dishes for us was the bone-in pork chop. Not only was it a serving ample enough for two (so was the steak), the seasoning and cook were both on point.The warm fingerling potato salad was reminiscent of a mustard-based German potato salad, and al dente green beans were served as another side. The entire plate was drizzled with an apple barbecue sauce that perfectly paired with the dish.
To finish our meal we ordered three of the four desserts, and let me just say this: I’m ordering dessert first next time. Hey, don’t judge!
Dad’s Cake, described as a flourless chocolate cake, pecan praline, chocolate coconut mousse, coconut snow. Holy schmoly! No. Words! Except that prior to this, the best dessert I’d ever had was at Buddakan in NYC. No kidding. That one was a chocolate something with a few caramel dots, so maybeeee……. I don’t know. It’s literally even Steven. I normally don’t order dessert except at super nice restaurants where the presentation blows your socks (or heels) off, and I’ve had my share of flourless chocolate cakes because, well, gluten is an issue. Most flourless cakes are so dense you almost need a knife to cut them, but not this one at Blue Jay Bistro. It was topped with a light mousse and beautiful sugar work, had frozen “coconut snow” on the side and pecan pralines for garnish. It was just a work of art, as were our other desserts.
The second chocolate dessert we ordered was the Saigon Sunset, highlighted by airy pieces of chocolate gateau sponge cake, lace cookies, condensed milk custard, Baileys ganache and espresso. This was ordered by someone who doesn’t have much of a sweet tooth and who isn’t a huge fan of chocolate, nor of espresso. He couldn’t stop talking about it, or the fact that he could eat the flower garnish. I have to admit, I didn’t taste a lot of this dessert because, well, mine! But I did give it a little try, it was crazy good, and the plate showed evidence of a little molecular gastronomy happening back in the kitchen with some dessert caviar — the espresso, perhaps — on the plate.
The final dessert, Life’s Best Lemons, was one of the best citrus desserts I’ve had, consisting of lemon drop sorbet, toasted marshmallow fluff, brown butter crumb, lemon curd, and lemon verbena. The plate was beautifully presented, and the dessert itself was bright and ideally suited for the dog days of summer.
While we were dining, we noticed others fully enjoying their experience at Blue Jay Bistro, chatting with the restaurant’s staff, taking photographs of the glorious space (and plates), smiling and laughing, and speaking to each other — friends and neighbors — about how wonderful it is to have such a great restaurant so close to home.
I couldn’t agree more and look forward to returning often (reservations required), especially to see what new offerings will be on the menu as seasonal changes are made.
If you’re lucky enough to have Tyler as your waiter, be sure to write a little note on your dinner check as you’re leaving. It genuinely makes him smile.