Blackbird – Collingswood

Despite its over-reliance on Italian restaurants, Collingswood offers an otherwise sufficient variety of restaurant types. Choices range from no-frills takeout joints to humble family-friendly restaurants to high-brow establishments. Blackbird falls into the latter category, with slick décor, fancy “New American” menu options… and high prices.

We Foodies don’t mind splurging from time to time on an expensive meal if the food, atmosphere, and experience warrant the prices. I was excited to try a restaurant that we’ve heard so much about. Unfortunately, our experience did not live up to the hype or the price tag.

The first thing we noticed upon being seated was the noise. Perhaps we dined on an especially rowdy night, but the noise level rivaled that of the Pop Shop during Sunday morning breakfast. While the décor and dim lighting could pass for romantic (albeit a bit sterile), the noisy crowd had us almost shouting to hear each other. Still, this wasn’t enough to deter us. We can take a little noise.

While waiting to place our order, a waitress served us bread and olive oil – one meager piece of bread each and some unseasoned oil. Seemed a little cheap and unimpressive to me, but no one goes to a restaurant for the free bread, so I thought little of it. Another waitress came to take our order, and here is where it became clear that Blackbird is too hoity-toity for us.

I told the waitress I’d like the Pan Seared Sea Bass with roasted red pepper risotto. “Ok,” she said. “And what’s your first course?” Uhh. I didn’t want an appetizer. If I had wanted an appetizer, I would have ordered one. And how about asking politely, rather than trying to force me to order something I didn’t want. Why not employ the old power of suggestion (“Would you like to try our delicious soup de jour for a first course today?”). Her phrasing and tone was just plain rude. Anyway, Jamie ordered the Chicken Leg Confit with choucroute and pomme puree. By now we were convinced that this was one of those restaurants that serves you a carrot slice carved to look like a crane atop a half-ounce piece of meat and lettuce leaf and calls it a gourmet meal. I started thinking of which flavor of My Little Kupkake I’d grab on the way home to fill me up.

Without too long a wait, our entrees came out (by yet another waitress). We were partially right about our assumption. A huge white plate housed small portions but with only mediocre presentation. No fancy carrot cranes here.

Jamie’s chicken dish sounded far more pretentious than it deserved. An overly-salted chicken leg sat atop a scoop of mashed potatoes and some peas in a lake of gravy. The chicken had no real flavor apart from SALT. I don’t even know how you’d get chicken that salty. It tasted like it had been sitting in brine for days. I’d also like to comment that in our house, we don’t appreciate culinary pretenses. If you’re going to serve mashed potatoes, call them mashed potatoes. Slapping a fancy French name on them doesn’t give you license to charge twice as much. I enjoyed the choucroute, though Jamie wouldn’t touch it. I’m not a fan of sauerkraut, but this was sweet and mild.

My sea bass was edible, if a little undercooked. The risotto, to be fair, had a fabulous flavor. By far the greatest food of the night. Only problem, it was positively swimming in oil and butter. I felt the consequences of that later in the night while I suffered terrible indigestion. Despite the small portions, neither of us finished our meals. Needless to say, we weren’t impressed with our dinners or the almost $30/plate price tag.

The rude waitress swung by our table, removed our half-eaten plates, and dropped off dessert menus without a single comment. When she returned, “What are you having for dessert?” I swear! Has she ever been to a restaurant before? I’ve had better service at McDonalds. Obviously we did not order dessert. We certainly didn’t want to risk $9 a pop when the rest of our meal disappointed on such a high level.

After paying our $63 check, we left unhappy and un-sated. I wouldn’t call Blackbird our worst dining experience in Collingswood (*cough cough* Inde Blue *cough cough*) but it takes second place. A shame, really, because its sister restaurant West Side Gravy is charming and tasty (though that too suffers its own problems).

I don’t know why Blackbird draws such crowds, but these Foodies will not be returning until they dial down the self-importance and turn up the flavor.

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