Over the past 15 years, brothers Bruce and Eric Bromberg have methodically placed their Blue Ribbon banner over just about any type of comestible at their eight New York City establishments—shellfish and steaks, soups and sushi, bread and booze. (The only consistencies among them: late hours and large menus.) Their latest, Blue Ribbon Sushi Bar & Grill, aims to unite most of these, reinterpreting virtually every Blue Ribbon–esque offering through a Japanese prism. The result: the most erratic of the Bromberg stable.
Not that this latest Blue Ribbon, strategically positioned to pick up the crumbs left over from the neighboring Time Warner Center’s renowned “restaurant collection,” doesn’t have its strong points: primarily the raw fish, as the name advertises. Five chefs, occasionally booming out Japanese chants, stand sentinel over the loud main dining room, which resembles a life-size version of one of those wooden sake boxes. The sushi, while no match for Masa or Bar Masa looming nearby, does clone what’s on the respected Blue Ribbon Sushi Brooklyn and Soho menus.
The results, made under the eye of the chain’s sushi czar, Toshi Ueki, are well above average. There are attractive presentations—braided sardines, a vivid garnish of pink-and-red dried fish skin—chewy, milky sushi rice, and sophisticated cuts of fish, whether it be scallops that tasted like mature sherry or an almost eggy salmon.
Ueki winningly takes the most heralded feature of the original Blue Ribbon brasserie—the raw bar—and adapts it with a half-dozen seafood sunomono, basically a Japanese ceviche using vinegar as the marinade for such delicacies as blue crab, jellyfish and octopus. The clam version, served in a series of decorative shells, showed off a stunning variety of the mollusks, to varied effect: While the littlenecks clashed with the vinegar, the giant orange clams seemed softer and creamier for it.
But the rest of the dizzying menu—two dozen appetizers, not including 8 soups and 11 types of salad, plus steaks, poultry and tempura—proves disparately hit-or-miss.
A hit: fiery looking—and tasting—fried chicken, similar to the egg-and-matzo-meal rendition at other Blue Ribbon restaurants, improves with paprika, sancho pepper, and a gritty wasabi-laced raw-honey dipping sauce. There was also a perfectly grilled whole dorade, meat cleaving from the bone, accented with cilantro, olive-oil-slathered radish and cucumber shavings.
But for every revelation, there were disappointments. Among the appetizers, there was sour, electric-pink pork shumai and beef marrow served in long bones split lengthwise, a Blue Ribbon hallmark, that had a congealed consistency and a cloying teriyaki coating.
Among the entrées, the fried salt-and-pepper shrimp were large, beautiful specimens, but the skin—meant to be eaten—was as hard as plastic, and trying to remove it was a messy undertaking. Texture aside, the shrimp were shockingly bland, the kick residing in an afterthought of pepper-laced sautéed iceberg lettuce. Still worse, the filet mignon, one of five steak offerings, proved flavorless and porous, soaking up the ponzu sauce until it tasted like a salty sponge.
The desserts, largely rehashed Blue Ribbon standards, prove a notch above the usual Japanese meal-endings. Most notable was the “Chocolate Bruno” (Blue Ribbon–speak for mousse cake), which now has a layer of green-tea mousse and a scoop of green tea ice cream.
Other parts of the Blue Ribbon empire manifest themselves better: an egalitarian no-reservations policy; a good drinks list (notably sake, including an interesting list of unpasteurized “live” options); and it’s open daily until two in the morning. Walking in for a few late drinks and a bite seems a good way to enjoy a menu that unfurls like a treasure hunt—with a little digging, you can find a few jewels.