Note: Click here for a review of Blue Smoke Battery Park City.
When Blue Smoke opened in early 2002, it was an odd diversion for the restaurateur Danny Meyer, who was better known for a string of insanely popular three-star restaurants, such as Union Square Café, Gramercy Tavern, Eleven Madison Park, and Tabla. (He has since added The Modern and Shake Shack to his brood.)
As Eric Asimov noted in the Times, “if anybody was going to give New York great barbecue, the thinking went, it would be Mr. Meyer.” But Blue Smoke delivered an uneven performance, and Asimov (then writing as the paper’s main critic) awarded just one star.
The NYC barbecue landscape has changed considerably since 2002. Righteous Urban Barbecue (“RUB”) and Hill Country have come along, both run by folks to whom barbecue is a religion, not just a sidelight. With those and several other standouts now available, Blue Smoke is just one of many NYC restaurants offering what purports to be authentic barbecue.
Those other places don’t have the Danny Meyer service model; most of them don’t even take reservations. Blue Smoke did, and when I called to say I was running a bit late, the staff offered to “make a note of it for the maitre d’.” My bar tab was transferred to my table without my even asking, and the host seated me before my girlfriend had arrived. That kind of service puts many higher-end restaurants to shame, and you certainly wouldn’t find it in any other barbecue place.
But while we appreciated the fine service, the barbecue at Blue Smoke wasn’t as good as RUB, Hill Country, or even Stephen Hanson’s Wildwood Barbecue, all located nearby. On top of that, Blue Smoke was absolutely crushed on a Friday evening. While it isn’t Danny Meyer’s fault that his restaurant is insanely popular, the crowds detracted somewhat from whatever charms Blue Smoke would otherwise have.
We had the Rib Sampler for Two ($35.95), which featured two Texas-style beef ribs, four Memphis baby back ribs, and four Kansas City spareribs. It is a pity that you cannot mix and match proteins and preparation methods. The dry-rub beef ribs were the most enjoyable, but they didn’t have as much meat on them as I would have liked. The spare ribs were the meatiest, but they were slathered in a a “KC Sauce” that was over-powering. The baby backs had the saucing right, but they were too lean for our taste.
The ribs are served à la carte, so I would definitely recommend ordering a couple of sides (they range from $3.95–7.95). Roasted Cauliflower Gratin ($4.95; above left) was too dry and had no perceptible cheese content. Macaroni & Cheese ($7.95; above right), the most expensive of the sides, was just fine.
We didn’t drink much, as we were driving out to Eastern Long Island after our meal, but there is an impressive list of beers, bourbons, house cocktails and other spirits. In this respect, Blue Smoke has other barbecue places beat.
There is much more to the menu at Blue Smoke, including a long list of appetizers and salads, more than a dozen more side dishes, and standard entrées, along with several more barbecue specialities. You can probably put together a good meal here, but we left with the distinct impression that it is not worth the trouble.
Blue Smoke (116 E. 27th Street between Park & Lexington Avenues, Flatiron District)