Singing the food critic blues at Miamisburg’s Blue Note Bistro and Lounge

By Paula Johnson

Photo: Barramundi Almondine and Creamed Spinach at Blue Note Bistro and Lounge in Miamisburg; photo: Paula Johnson

The definition of a “blue note” in jazz is a minor interval instead of the expected major. Thus, the Blue Note in Miamisburg could not be more aptly named, based on the experience PIP (Palate In Progress) and I had with a dining companion on a recent visit.

But first, a little about the building. It opened as a bank in 1928 and stood empty for several years before the owners of the Miami Valley Sports Bar converted it to a restaurant in August 2016. The exterior is lovely, largely unchanged except the addition of a patio off to one side. The interior, however, highlights none of the restrained elegance of a traditional bank, though a few touches like some woodwork and the bank’s three vaults remain. How to describe the interior… “WE ARE A FANCY JAZZ PLACE,” every element of décor seems to scream: garishly painted murals, metallic streamers like you’d see decorating the gym for prom, and eerie blue lighting, described by one of my dining companions as similar to the weird glow of luminol used to look for bodily fluids at crime scenes. Not a lot of subtlety was involved in the design of this over-the-top space, but most certainly a ton of money was.

Seating Snafu

Our dining companion arrived first and found a “seat yourself” sign (odd and unexpected in a place that emphasizes a fine dining experience). He did just that, looking over the relatively sparsely populated dining area and choosing a seat against the wall near the stage. Moments later, he was approached and informed that he couldn’t sit there and that he should return to the waiting area to be seated elsewhere. We arrived moments later to find him reseated at a table close to the entrance, scratching his head at what just happened. “Not a table I would have chosen,” he said. And we concurred, looking over at other empty and cozier tables, including one still empty where he had originally sat.

Of course first impressions could be overcome, and we all still had an open mind about the Blue Note. I never want to report on a negative experience, quite the contrary. I want restaurants to thrive and succeed. However, the primary question I begin every review with is “What is the restaurant trying to do, and did they achieve it?” The Blue Note bills itself as an elegant, old school supper club and bar with a speakeasy feel. There’s a dress code. We didn’t expect this opening fumble, and waited to see if recovery was possible.

Cubeless

We wanted to begin with a cocktail, since it seemed so apropos. The bar’s handcrafted cocktail menu features a lot of standards as well as Blue Note variations on classics. Our dining companion settled immediately on a Count Rugen ($9): Bulleit Rye, Grand Marnier, dry vermouth, lemon juice, simple syrup, blood orange purée, and a garnish of sage. Since we were old-schooling it, I asked our server if they could make my favorite elegant retro drink, a classic champagne cocktail. He asked me what that was. While a server can be forgiven for not knowing, the proper response would have been to take the order and ask the bar. (Service throughout the evening was friendly and earnest, but unskilled.) I explained it was champagne, a sugar cube, bitters, and a twist. “They can’t make that. They don’t have sugar cubes behind the bar,” he told me. A Google search for cocktails made with sugar cubes reveals that while simple syrup is used more often, there are about 30 to 50 classic drinks that start with a sugar cube. So, not exactly unheard of. I went with my second choice, a French 75 ($8), also made with champagne, as well as gin and simple syrup. Both cocktails were fine, not outstanding, with mine a little heavy on the gin. Our companion’s assessment of the Count Rugen: “It didn’t mix well. I tasted all the individual ingredients rather than one cocktail with a distinct individual flavor.”

Our dining companion loves mushrooms, so we ordered an appetizer I had tried on a previous visit, Polenta and Marsala Wild Mushrooms ($10), and one recommended by our server, Smoked Chicken and Eggplant ($14). On a prior visit I tried the polenta dish and found it excessively salty; this time, it was conversely under-salted. The chicken appetizer was the better of the two by far, with crunchy breaded slabs of eggplant pairing well with the smoked chicken and red pepper coulis.

Menu Musings

As we tasted, we perused the menu. One of the first things I noticed was the number of misspellings and punctuation inconsistencies throughout. I am not the grammar police, but it is glaring to refer to something as “pan seered” or “blackoned.” Two of seven appetizers had a “one of a kind sauce,” which tells me nothing. Further reflecting on the menu itself, I noted that, of the 10 entrées offered, seven were listed as having a cream sauce and two had Black Forrest ham as an ingredient (not a case of a seasonal ingredient being featured). Poor spelling and punctuation and a lack of variety of offerings aren’t always deal breakers, but it goes back to a restaurant’s stated mission—in the Blue Note’s case, upscale fine dining. So it does matter very much. Not considering more carefully what goes on, or even spell-checking your menu, is indicative of a lack of attention to detail. That’s something all successful restaurants have in common, from the most causal of eateries to the priciest of fine dining establishments.

We selected the venerable old favorite Steak Diane ($24) and Barramundi Almondine ($19) as our entrées. Steak Diane has been around since the 1940s, falling out of favor in the ’80s, and now experiencing a resurgence on a lot of menus. Thin slices of steak made with seared pan juices, the dish is usually flambéed tableside to finish with brandy or Madeira. The Blue Note’s version (not flambéed tableside) added wild mushrooms, and was rated average by our dining companion, with agreement. The Barramundi Almondine (a preparation usually done with trout) was good—quite a nice piece of fish, lightly coated and sautéed with almond chunks and a light lemony sauce. However, I would definitely make this dish with the typical toasted slivered almonds, which are more delicate and add that wonderful, slightly toasted taste. I ordered creamed spinach as a side to accompany, but found it completely lacking in salt, like the polenta. We found most of what we tried bland and uninspired. “A sister kisser of a meal,” our companion observed.

For dessert, we tried Vanilla Almond Tiramisu ($11) and Dark and White Chocolate Truffles ($10). I noted that the website menu pictures four truffles, while we received three. The temperature of the truffles was cold, rendering them a little hard and lacking a more robust taste had they been warmer. The tiramisu was a lot of cream and a little shy on the ladyfingers, and we all noted that the $11 price seemed steep. (We found the menu prices reasonable for entrées, ranging from $19-$28, though overall inconsistent, noting the eggplant appetizer a tad pricey at $14.)

A seating snafu, disappointing cocktail experience, an ill-considered menu with careless mistakes, and food that didn’t stand out for its taste, creativity, or execution: This is what I am left to consider of our meal at The Blue Note. Which sadly leaves me singing the food critic blues.

The Blue Note Bistro is located at 23 E. Central Ave. in Miamisburg. For more information, please call 937.247.3000 or visit BlueNoteBistro.com.

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Paula Johnson
Dayton City Paper Dining Critic Paula Johnson would like every meal to start with a champagne cocktail and end with chocolate soufflé. As long as there’s a greasy burger and fries somewhere in the middle. Talk food with Paula at PaulaJohnson@DaytonCityPaper.com.

One Response to “Close, but no cube” Subscribe

  1. Lynne tripp garner May 22, 2017 at 8:35 pm #

    Our group has found the blue note one of our favorite places! Love the decor and wonderful music.was not too loud so we could hear to talk during dinner.we loved the steak diane and they have awonderfu ll salad(7layer). Our group eats out every sat.night.we love it!

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