“It’s a new place . . . I’ve been wanting to try it”, my daughter- in-law says. She continues, “It’s the same owners as Tin Leaf and Beach Plum, and it’s in the same parking lot right next door”. I willingly agree because she had taken me to the Tin Leaf a while ago. Although I never wrote about it, I liked it.
The Black Rail is literally right next door to the Tin Leaf so being the restaurant owner of both must make things convenient . . . and miserable at the same time; you can never just escape if you need to, however the labor pool might already be available to choose from.
A large, beautifully decorated restaurant with black iron, glass, mirror and wood finishes. The layout of the place is deceptive upon first entering. There is another bar and seating area around the corner past the open kitchen. The somewhat narrow hallway area was full of staff doing a lot of nothing and in the way of patrons passing through. It was awkward transiting that area. Then, what appeared to be, a maitre d in a fine suit attempts to fist-bump me as I pass through; perhaps that guy was just a drunk patron. The front dining area restroom (not sure if it is the only one) had some interesting framed stuff in the hallway, was very simply designed and had only one hand drying machine. It had no paper towel dispenser and no hand napkins, yet had a trash can inside right next to the the door. ??? It made it rather awkward when there were two sinks, one stall, two urinals and other patrons standing around with wet hands.
Similar decor in both dining and bar areas, but the lighting was brighter and seemed much more inviting and lively in the back area that then opens wide to a wonderful patio. The patio area was big and looked like it would make a nice venue for private parties (there was one going on), live music and nightlife during the summer months. The layout of the Black Rail circles around the backside of Daphne’s California Greek restaurant, and the patio gives you a great view of those patrons that can’t afford to sit on the other side of Black Rail’s nice fenced in yard. Kinda weird.
Upon arriving we found a comfortable couch area while we waited for our table. I guess this is where I say that this restaurant, having now been opened for around three months, had a similar awkwardness to what I describe as “the third day of culinary school”, in that the service, being very attentive, had too many people doing nothing, and “selling” you on what they brought out. The third day of my culinary school each week was always “service day”, whereas the first two days of each week we learned about the cuisine for the week and did prep for our presentation service to the Chef-Instructors that was on day three.
As we waited for our table, we ordered two Vodka and sodas with our initial cocktail server, and quickly brought out two Vodka and tonics. We tasted them as they arrived and we questioned the drinks. She said she watched the bartender make them, and gently defended their composition. But instead of asking if we would like them corrected, she asked if there was a different drink we would like. “The difference is one button to the left”, I explained to my son as I used my hand to mock the use of a hand-held soda gun dispenser that bartenders use to pour soda, tonic, plain water and other carbonated beverages like cola and 7-up. Other service blunders included waters that were brought to the table, some full of ice, and others with just a couple of quickly melting cubes. Not that big of a deal, but noticeable. Some of the runners that were delivering plates just wanted to place them anywhere on the table without care of who ordered them; yet the charcuterie board was carefully explained as to each of the cuts of non-differentiatingly tasting salami, olives, whipped ricotta and grilled bread. Meh, I’ve had much better boards; and if the plates were hot from sitting under heat lamps, then service towels or napkins are the way to minimize the ‘just put it down’ dilemma.
The rest of the food we ordered was not impressive; again, with “the third day of culinary school” in mind; some stuff was plated nicer than others, tasted better than others, were more standoutish than others. None of which were remarkable. Kind of led us to think, hmmm, the Tin Leaf was better. The pasta (house-made linguine) we ordered with just a butter/olive oil and grated cheese for the kids was downright wrong. When lifted to mix in the bowl, the whole pile of pasta was stuck together. We literally had to cut it up just to serve it to the children, then they didn’t even eat it. As an appetizer we ordered the chickpea fried calimari and seasonal vegetables. Good, but where is the calimari? The large plate was filled with unidentifiable vegetables, because of the very dark chickpea breading that was used. I initially thought that everything was over fried, but the calimari was tender if you could find a ring beneath all of the unidentifiable vegetables. That was probably the least desirable plating of the evening. The aioli that accompanied the calimari plate was totally insufficient for the plate, as we used the over-portioned humus for the insufficient pita on the Mediterranean Mezze appetizer. It seemed that the accouterment portions were not matched for these two plates.
For our dinner, we ordered the ok charred octopus, good fire roasted carrot salad that had some kind of unidentifiable spiciness to it; an ok, but over-cooked tough shrimp scampi had a decent sauce for soaking the properly grill-toasted bread. We also ordered the whole, nicely plated Branzino fish that was rather flavorless unless you combined it with the remainder of the plate’s ingredients of shaved fennel, olive-caper vinaigrette and pesto. The highlight of our food were the perfectly crispy fried Fingerling potatoes . . . yeah, pretty sad when our best plate were French Fries.
All of our food was gone at the end, as this place was just an ok visit overall. We would like to return, but would again probably go next door to, a now empty, Tin Leaf; or up one block for an exceptionally rated breakfast at Beach Plum. Three months from opening I would have expected more, not perfection, but most things ironed out and devoid of “the third day of culinary school” dysfunctions that were rather prominent this evening. The food was a letdown.
We would like to try it again in the future, but after they have been open for at least six months or even if they survive, and they probably will, after a year with the local regulars that patronize their other establishments. This trio of restaurants has developed a devoted following.