Bleu may be Winston’s best

by Brian Clarey

Bleu 3425 Frontis St. Winston-Salem 336.760.2026

Outby the mall, cruising Winston-Salem’s fringe in the rain, we werelooking for lunch and having no luck. We wanted a meal – not just aquick grab-and-go but an actual, bona fide repast to mark the middle ofthe day in the middle of the week. And then, in between slaps of the windshield wipers, I saw it. I have known about Bleu since its opening a year and a half ago caused a figurative maelstrom in culinary circles. Itwas begun by brothers Freddy and Terry Lee, who brought Winston-Salemthe Triad’s only true five-star restaurant, Bernardin’s, where I onceate a plate of barbecued ostrich that still, pardon the expression,ruffles my feathers. The bar is set pretty high, but Bleu enjoysa few advantages its predecessor did not. While Bernardin’s stilloperates out of a strip mall on Jonestown Road, Bleu exists inside afree-standing structure built specifically for the purpose – abeautiful stone and wood building that looks more residential thancommercial. Too, high visibility and its mallside locale provideexcellent drive-by traffic. But Bernardin’s has built up areputation over several years as a great white-linen restaurant, one itmust honor and answer every night. Bleu is its own thing – great fordinner, fun for brunch, cool for drinks and a damn good lunch -empowered by the cred established by its older, overachieving brother. I was ready to give it a go. Lunchis what you make of it at Bleu – there was a short list of $7 itemslike salads, soups, quiche and wraps; a selection of pastas andstir-fry blends; salads from house to cobb and a couple of soups; acouple pizzas; a slate of fine sandwiches; a reasonable list of fineentrées; and, as always, homemade desserts. We weren’t here toscrew around. Our first course consisted of a roasted vegetableterrine, fried calamari and soups of she crab and watermelon. Onthe terrine: Layers of thinly sliced carrots, peppers, onions, eggplantand portobella mushrooms held fast with a cardamom-tomato gelee islight and flavorful, and served with herbed goat cheese, gelee cubesand toasted raisin bread. On the calamari: The squid ringletsare coated in a batter based on black-eyed peas, which give coarsetexture and nutty flavor to the perfectly fried little tasties, thenserved with Creole mustard. On the soups: The she-crab soup issoft and velvety, with notes of sherry and chunks of lump crabmeat.Cold watermelon soup tastes a little bit like a Jolly Rancher. Theaesthetic carries over to the lunchtime entrees – fusion-style seafoodand steak dishes, mainly – and to the sandwiches as well. I wasthe recipient of a shaved prime rib sandwich with lots of bleu cheese,horseradish sauce and onion confit on a thin baguette. For most, thiswould be a knife-and-fork sandwich, but I folded it over and sluggedaway, enjoying the interplay between the ingredients. One lunch guestordered the bleu club, with chicken breast, house-cured bacon andfontina cheese on soft, herbed focaccia. Another requested the hibachichicken dish, with stir-fried vegetables. Both were winners. A dessert sampling left us enamored of the peanut-butter mousse pie, on a crust made entirely from Oreos and butter. Iwill absolutely be back for Sunday brunch for the French toast, stuffedwith candied walnuts and honey mascarpone. And it’ll take several morevisits to unlock the dinner menu, which boasts more artistic entrees,creative specials and a steakhouse-style meat menu with seafood, porkand several fine steaks. And while I don’t assign star ratingsto restaurants, I can say that Bleu is as fine a place as I have evereaten in the Triad. Freddy Lee, who still is head chef at Bernardin’s,has staffed the place with talent, notably Executive John Tharp, whoearned his culinary degree from Johnson & Wales and logged time asthe sous chef at Manhattan’s Tribeca Grill. I’d like to see what that guy can do with a bone-in NY strip.