Most of us in my field like to think of ourselves as knowledgeable in terms of predicting trends, as well as the potential success or failure of a concept when we are faced with it. But nothing can explain the frenzied response that has characterized Blue Martini, a new restaurant and lounge at the Town Square mall.
If you’ve been to this beautifully designed, intelligently landscaped mall, which is a triumph of urban planning, then you may be aware that things here got off slowly. The mall opened during a downturn in the economy, and there are spots yet to be filled. A Whole Foods Market is scheduled to open soon, along with a Brazilian churrasco joint called Texas de Brazil, plus Kabuki Japanese Restaurant and other concepts.
But Blue Martini might be, to dredge up an old Reggie Jackson metaphor, “the straw that stirs the drink” for this mall. Last Saturday evening, for instance, the place did 1,100 covers, according to General Manager Robbie Day. And adjacent restaurant owner Louis Osteen is one of the beneficiaries. Osteen, who operates Louis’s Fish Camp and Louis’s Las Vegas, reports his businesses are busier than ever. Thank you, Blue Martini.
So just what is Blue Martini, I hear you cry. Well, if you are under 40, you probably know already, because it feels like every hot-body and young professional in town comes here for the 4-8 p.m. happy hour, when both drinks and food are sold at half price.
Picture a giant patio with stonework columns, black lacquered tables and high stools, as well as a darkly backlit inner dining room filled with cushy black leather banquettes. The furniture here, it was pointed out to me, is all round. “No sharp edges,” says Day, so it isn’t possible to jab yourself on a table or chair.
If the whole shebang reminds you of the white-hot scene in south Florida, it’s no accident. This concept began in West Palm, and there are five Florida locations. “The idea was to introduce a little Miami in Vegas,” says Day, himself a Florida transplant.
As far as service is concerned, it’s pure Vegas. The scantily clad female servers are resplendent in low-cut, robin’s-egg-blue bodices and black skirts. They’ll bring your first round of drinks, which by the way is free for Lady’s VIP members who come in before 10 p.m. And they will serve dishes from a tapas-inspired menu produced by Chef Patrick Marinazzo, who refers to himself as “kitchen manager” here.
Drinks are obviously an important part of the Blue Martini experience. Yes, there really is a Blue Martini; it’s Finlandia vodka, Citronge, Blue Curacao and OJ, but it’s one that I personally find overly sweet. I do like the Red Apple, Finlandia cranberry vodka done up with Apple Pucker Liqueur and cranberry juice. Whatever, as Gen Y-ers put it. There are dozens of creative drinks to choose from around here.
Food isn’t exactly an afterthought, though. This cooking is neither brilliant nor imaginative, but it’s as good as it needs to be, using fresh ingredients and served in huge portions. In fact, when I saw the pricing, for instance, of lamb chops at $15, I wondered how it was possible to offer the dish at half price. “Easy,” says Day. “Our food is meant to be a loss leader.”
For loss-leader fare, this is awfully decent chow. I especially admire the seared tuna, in black and white, sesame-crusted slices, on top of a calamari and seaweed salad infused in sesame oil-based dressing. My favorite starter is a fairly classic shrimp cocktail, known as shrimp martini on the menu, because it is served in—what else?—a martini glass. The sauce has lots of horseradish to give it punch, and the five shrimp are huge and fresh.
Flatbreads are nice, too, with toppings such as barbecued chicken, beef with portabella mushrooms and a classic pepperoni, and there is a good mozzarella Caprese salad, made with ripe tomato, fresh bufala mozzarella and lots of sweet basil.
I’m not a fan of the ever-present St. Louis-Style Spinach & Artichoke Dip, but if you like this goopy emulsion, here served on toasted pita triangles, then this one is as good a version as anyone else’s.
In the Signature Dish department, I like the Miniature Martini Lamb Chops, which aren’t small at all, a delicious lobster taco, which you build out of grilled Maine lobster, avocado and mangoes, and chicken quattro formaggi, sort of the Mediterranean version of the Russian stalwart chicken Kiev. Cheese literally drools out of the chicken when you prod a piece, and it tastes even better when mixed with the seasoned rice accompaniment.
If you’ve saved room for dessert, there is a nice wild berry cake, pastry cream topped with a slurry of fresh raspberries, strawberries and blackberries, and Vesuvius cake, like a chocolate heart attack composed of various mousses layered onto a brownie crust.
You can also have one of the dessert cocktails, many of which, such as Ultimate White Chocolate and Cookies and Cream, are nothing more than grown-up milk shakes. Did you come here to drink, or did you come here to eat? Don’t answer that.