>> Sunday, April 27, 2008

72-27 Austin Street
Forest Hills, NY 11375
(718) 268-0707

Many people in the local blogosphere have decided to cut Bonfire Grill some slack for being a new restaurant whose flaws, should any exist, will vanish once it gets it sea legs. I am not one of these people.

It's like this, Bonfire Grill is the third restaurant that the owners have. The other two are the Manhattan establishments Uptown Lounge and Choice Kitchen.

In fact, even just a quick scan of their respective websites show that all three menus are pretty much the same. For example, they all have "Nachos Grande" and sliced steak sandwiches. They've been doing these dishes for a while. So as far as I'm concerned, these guys are as good as they're gonna get.

But in terms of the food what does that even mean?

D and I showed up a couple of weeks ago on a Friday and the place was packed. We lucked out and got a table after only a few minutes waiting. Later on I went again with Bro to get some more dishes under my belt. Bonfire's dining area isn't very big with about 15 tables. The separate bar section where you walk in feels almost the same size. The vibe is casual but upscale. The client list is all over the map. There were families with their kids here, just as there were girls in little black cleavage enhancing tops. There was a guy in a football jersey and a guy in a suit. Bonfire would do well I believe, if it wanted to head more in the upscale direction, by getting rid of the plasma screens that dot the restaurant playing the news, sports, and The Simpsons. Okay... keep The Simpsons.

To start with, D chose a Ceasar Salad. I never, or almost never, order salads. So I'm the wrong guy to have an opinion on the subject, but she liked it a lot. I went for the Montego Coconut Gulf Shrimp. It could have been good, but it was overcooked and somewhat tough. The batter was too crusty and on the verge of burned and it was weirdly served with a honey mustard dipping sauce, making it feel cheap and like something I could have gotten at Applebee's. So, like I said, it should have been good.

When I went with Bro, I ordered the Maryland Spiced Crab Cakes. These were very good. Most crab cakes are heavy on the bread and light on the crab, or at least light on whatever they call crab there. These were nice and meaty and didn't rely on breading to make up their volume. I recommend them. Bro picked the French Onion Soup, which he also liked quite a bit. It wasn't as salty as most restaurant French onion soups are. And if there's one thing Bro hates, it's salty food. I have to agree. Salt is too often used instead of talent when a dish needs flavor. This soup did it right.

D ordered the Stuffed Breast of Chicken Au Jus. It was, in a word... generic. In another word, mediocre. The chicken itself was a standard breast where the flavor was virtually entirely dependent on that with which it is served. In this case, it was served with a stuffing of wild rice which was also solidly boring, and a side of sliced mixed vegetables. Actually, it seemed that all of the dishes are served with wild rice and sliced mixed vegetables. See the photos? Be it the chicken above or the duck and salmon below, the sides are all the same. At least the chicken's wild rice came with cranberries mixed in. I think we can all agree that this is lazy.

I ordered the Grilled Duck Breast in a plum sauce, which was pretty good but you don't get much. That said, they did a good job of getting rid of the fat that this bird has so much of. Bro ordered the Atlantic Grilled Salmon with a mustard au jus. Bro liked it a lot and I certainly won't complain about it. It was moist, flaky, and tender, just like a good salmon should be. Add the tangy mustard and you have quiet the tasty dish. Again, both came with the wild rice and the mixed vegetables... yawn.

Finally I tried the Sliced Steak Sandwich (yes, probably the same one I mentioned were at the other places), medium rare, served with provolone, caramelized onions, tomatoes and horseradish sauce. It was delicious and might end up being my go-to dish whenever I return.

Since so many people will be using Bonfire for its bar, I felt compelled to have a cocktail. Or at least that's the excuse I came up with. I picked the French Martini, which was good and strong. The cocktail list that we got at the table was, sadly, pretty short. I seriously think that Bonfire would do well to add some more to the list and make this a more focal point of their dining experience.

The desserts are kinda the been-there-done-that variety. Ice cream, chocolate cake, key lime pie, cheesecake, etc.

So is Bonfire a welcome addition to the neighborhood? Yes. Most definitely. Just like a Target is a welcome addition to a mall but is really just a fancier Kmart, Bonfire needs work to be anything more than a fancier version of the TGI Fridays down the block. The cocktail menu is short and someone needs to add fresh drinks to it. The menu is all over the place. Nachos and buffalo wings should not be sharing the page with filet mignon and wild mushroom ravioli. If these things aren't fixed, I fear that Bonfire will wind up being lumped into the jack-of-all-trades-master-of-none category. I like it and will return when I want comfort food. But I want Bonfire to be more than that.

And I have a feeling that everyone else does, too.

Meal one: Four glasses of wine, two appetizers, and two entrees, no dessert, came to $94.00 plus tax and tip.

Meal Two: Two beers (one normal and one huge), one cocktail, two appetizers, two entrees, no dessert, came to $75.86 plus tax and tip.


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