Lately I’ve been prone to eating appetizers or sharing entrees at the bars of nice restaurants. I end up spending less money, the atmosphere is generally more relaxed, and I enjoy chatting with the bartenders, who often provide great service. I also feel more comfortable ordering just 1-2 dishes for two people, as I’m not taking up a whole four top. It’s also easy to peace out and hit up another restaurant if you feel like trying something new.
Last night I had every intention of getting appetizers at Bacchanalia, then moving on to Miller-Union to do the same thing, but the Bacchanalia portions were very substantial and we ended up full after just two appetizers and a salad.
Bacchanalia is generally a $75 prix fixe menu, but if you sit at the bar you can order ala carte. The restaurant was jammed full, but the bar was mostly empty, save for a 15 minute stretch where it was slammed with diners waiting for their tables. We easily found somewhere to sit, perused the drink menu, and asked the bartender, Seth, for a half bottle of Ployez-Jacquemart Champagne. It wasn’t stunning, but decent bubbles for under $50 is always a fun start to a meal. But we actually stretched this half bottle out through the whole meal, which ended up taking almost two hours.
Considering we were sitting at the bar and only ordering appetizers, I didn’t expect that they would offer us the whole routine afforded to those in the dining room. But immediately after we ordered, the bread arrived, then the warm gougères, followed by the cauliflower soup amuse. Shortly after, our appetizers arrived.
I had the butter poached lobster in risotto for $16. At first I thought the only lobster in the dish was the claw meat on top, and I wasn’t too shocked at that fact considering the locale and the price, but in fact there were five large bite sized pieces underneath the risotto, a pleasant surprise. The dish was probably too buttery (note the slightly coagulated butter ring around the risotto), but the risotto was cooked perfectly al dente, the lobster was wonderful, and the dish was filling and satisfying.
Katie got the Yukon gold gnocchi with royal trumpet mushrooms and shaved parmesan, also $16. My photo is poor, but we liked how the dish was presented in the small country style pot. The gnocchi were very tender, soft and giving to the touch, without being mushy. I really liked the crunchy mushrooms in this dish too. This was also a hearty dish, and a very large portion for an appetizer. Someone was a little heavy handed with the salt, but not to the point were it was a major turn-off.
After the appetizers, our salad arrived. It was roasted beets with beet sorbet and amazing goat cheese. I had this dish the first time I came to Bacchanalia a few years ago, so it must be a mainstay on the menu, and for good reason. The beet sorbet is unexpectedly refreshing, the goat cheese is fantastic, and I love how it all mixes up together to create a cold, blood stained cheese and roasted beet mixture. Again, I was surprised at the size of the portion for $12.
For dessert we ordered the apple buckle with cardamom ice cream. Though before this arrived, we were served yet another amuse from the kitchen – a candied lemon fizz drink, which was superb.
But our dessert was definitely the right choice, I only wish there had been more of the cardamom ice cream. I first had cardamom ice cream at Dynamic Dish, and it blew me away. I’m surprised I don’t see this combination more often.
At this point we were thoroughly stuffed, but the kitchen kept sending us out “gifts”. First came the macaroons, chocolates, and short breads, followed by the warm, puffy madeleines (not pictured). The madeleines pushed me over the top, from full to, OK now we waddle out to the car. But in a great way.
I wouldn’t go so far as to call this meal cheap, but it was a hell of a value. For two people I spent about $140 with tax and tip, which is less than what I spent for one person on my last visit to Bacchanalia, and I could have easily spent less on alcohol. I also had more fun on this visit – it was less up tight, I got to watch the dining room, chat with Seth, and view the kitchen staff working fervently; I highly recommend visiting this way. And if it’s not your thing, just get your check and hit up the next place on the Westside, there’s definitely a lot of options these days.
Notable: Bacchanalia now has a published vegetarian tasting menu, also $75. I believe they have been able to do this for quite a while, but a few years ago I know they didn’t have one published on their website. Also, shout out to RowdyFood.com, who gave me the idea for hitting up the bar at Bacchanalia.