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Friday, January 14, 2011

First Look: Washington Place Bistro

Posted By on Fri, Jan 14, 2011 at 12:51 PM

washington-place-bistro.jpg

Despite my job title and description, I don't take pleasure in criticizing restaurants. I fully comprehend the tremendous amount of time, money, passion, and toil that go into serving a single meal at a new establishment. That is precisely why I don't race to be the first person to offer a public opinion of a place. Sure, everybody has a right to voice one — especially when paying good money — it's just foolish to believe that all cylinders will be firing right out of the gate.

Case in point: I waited over five weeks before visiting Washington Place Bistro in Little Italy. While that's longer than I typically wait to try a new restaurant, especially one as hotly anticipated as this one, it isn't without precedent. Dragonfly has been serving a full menu for months, but only recently did I give it the once-over. Same for Fracas, which opened on Coventry a full month before I ever stepped foot inside.

And the results could not have been more disparate, with each of these first visits resulting in a wide range of experiences — from positive to negative. The only consistency being that I know each restaurant received from me a fair shake.

The good news is that Washington Place Bistro was more than worth the wait. Our first meal here was thoroughly enjoyable, as was the service, setting and overall experience. Highlights include a velvety and elegant roasted cauliflower bisque, dotted with a smidgen of blue cheese. Though our server mistakenly billed the pierogies as being stuffed with braised oxtails as opposed to being topped with it, that did not prevent our enjoyment of this great dish.

The kitchen's execution of chicken thigh confit was nearly flawless, with savory pieces of salty, crisp-skinned meat surrounding a dreamy cornbread pudding. Even the meatloaf, a true test of technique if ever there was one, passed our tests with flying colors. It was nice especially to see colorful Chef's Garden carrots on the plate.

But here's the interesting point: Washington Place Bistro, as we well know, took over the spot long occupied by the Baricelli Inn. If we remember anything about the Baricelli it is how expensive the food was, right? Well, I happen to have the last menu from Paul Minnillo's erstwhile inn and guess what, Washington Place Bistro ain't much cheaper.

That wonderful oxtail pierogi appetizer everybody is raving about (and rightly so) costs $13, more than every single starter on Baricelli's starter list save for the meat and cheese boards. Salads are priced exactly the same at both restaurants: $7.50 to $8.50. At Baricelli, diners could choose from four half pastas priced under $12. Washington offers two half pastas, and they both come in at higher price points. It's difficult to find a great glass of wine at Washington Place for under $10, and wait until you see the size of the pour. The biggest difference in prices comes in the entrée department, but even here we're talking a couple bucks.

Funny how perceptions can cloud our memories.

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