It's hard not to go into The Bird & The Bear with some expectations. The second restaurant from Elouise Jones, it could lean Southern, á la Ouisie's Table, but the tagline "An American Bistro" also implies a bit of French flair and maybe even some new American flavors.
But the range of Bird & Bear's menu surpasses even those scattered metrics. Perusing the red meat section of the menu includes selections from Morocco (beef tagine), Italy (osso buco), Mexico (braised beef tacos), France (lamb Provençal) and Spain (paella).
The consistency on the menu comes from a focus on lighter fare, with plenty of salads, sandwiches, vegetarian dishes and seafood, all prepared with a bit of indulgence, like the occasional cream sauce or fried sweet potato chips. It's a formula that seems to be working, as the similarly eclectic dining room when I visited was packed with ladies (and even a few men) lunching.
The Bird & The Bear seems to lack a sense of focus. It's an interesting restaurant, but I'd rather it be good.
I started with brandied escargots, which were presented in a bowl of thick, buttery broth with microgreens and two thick slices of toasted garlic bread. The actual snails looked much bigger than the versions I usually see in an escargot dish. Before I could become too enamored of the proportion, I was disappointed by the flavor.
The escargot were chewy and overcooked and didn't seem to retain much of the buttery flavor.
The same pattern emerged with my BLTC sandwich — that's bacon, lettuce, fried green tomatoes and cheese. At first, I was bowled over by the splendor of the sandwich, with a pretty brioche bacon literally hanging over the side.
But tasting it, the texture was all wrong. The toasted brioche bread wasn't quite enough to hold everything together (a broiche bun might have been better), the thick slab of fried green tomato seemed to take over the sandwich, the cheese was virtually missing in action (the aioli hiding under the lettuce was more noticeable) and the bacon was dense and chewy — it tasted like it had been cooked hours before and reheated for the meal. Whatever the reason, chewy bacon is never okay.
The highlight of the meal was the daily special of beef and duck foie gras ravioli. Served in a sweet tomato cream sauce, the ravioli were light, though the foie gras interior tasted more like liver paté, dryer and lacking some the richness I had hoped for. It was a nice dish, but not the kind of plate that turns a meal around.
Whether it's the menu, the execution or the service, The Bird & The Bear seems to lack a sense of focus. It's an interesting restaurant, but I'd rather it be good.