Backals to the Future
Despite a few missteps, the old Heathcote Tavern in
Knowing The Lovely Building at
Winding our way through the high-ceilinged foyer and multi-leveled dining rooms, we felt none of the stuffiness or formality that such design features might imply: the vibe was lively.
The décor certainly sets the stage: amidst the traditional architecture is a mix of antiques and the shock of translucent tangerine Philippe Stark chairs and gold chain “curtains.” The design is fun and smart, but remains an unobtrusive part of the landscape.
The menu is as much of a mix as the décor. What worked for us in three dimensions, however, confused us on the page. Weiner Schnitzel, lobster-and-shrimp risotto, rigatoni with duck Bolognese, short ribs, a turkey burger, and a $20 Angus burger…we were not sure if we were in a casual eatery or an upscale dining spot. While one of us tucked into a lovely crisp-skinned subtle branzino topped with picholine olive and tomato relish so rich it tasted like jam, the other was taking a big bite from a juicy burger. It was a good burger, to be sure, but for $20, we expected something extraordinary. The roasted veal T-bone, however, was outstanding: one cut through the crisp, well–seasoned exterior revealed the blush of pale meat so tender and moist that every subsequent cut released more pink juice.
Entrées come with a choice of sides. With the veal chop, we chose stir-fried bok choy. As perfectly seasoned as the chop was, on early visits there seemed to be no seasoning on the bok choy. On a later visit, the problem was corrected and the bok choy was pleasant.
In a beet-and-blue salad, the frisée was tossed with sharp vinaigrette, which played well against the bite of the bitter greens, the thunderous presence of the Bleu cheese, and the sweet shock of beets.
While nothing about the rigatoni with duck Bolognese shouted “duck” to us—it could just as easily have been beef in the ragu—the hearty, slightly smoky dish seduced us with a come-hither hint of cinnamon peeking out from a cloak of heady, musky meat and the bright acidity of tomato. For rich meaty flavor, order the short ribs. One diner’s comment several days after eating at Backals was, “I’m still dreaming of those short ribs.”
Desserts were uneven. Thick, warm, meltingly gooey apples formed a tart topped with classically bittersweet caramel. A warm chocolate cake offered tasty layers of mousse; one tasted like milk chocolate and the other semi-sweet. A cheesecake that on one visit was gummy was fluffy and delightful on the next.
Backals is well pedigreed and offers an accessibly stylish environment. Many dishes were worth returning for, but the restaurant is still working out some kinks. Tolerate a few misses along the way, and we’re willing to bet this will be a smooth, crowd-pleasing, and reliable gathering place as it matures.
Lunch, Sun. to Fri.
Dinner, Mon. to Sat. , Sun.
â˜…â˜…â˜…â˜…—Outstanding â˜…â˜…â˜…—Very Good