Pros: The food. The service. Also the food.
Cons: Why no reservations? Because they're sadists.
Yesterday my friend Amity and I got to do what we'd been waiting a long time to do: get sent on a train up to New York to stay with her violently trendy aunt in violently trendy SoHo for a day. Needless to say, we adored it. However, come dinnertime we started to get what is known as a "rumbly in the tumbly" and we turned to her aunt the food critic to direct us to a good place to eat. Immediately she took us down to what appeared to be quite a hole-in-the-wall: the Blue Ribbon.
There are no huge neon signs in front of the Blue Ribbon directing anyone and the restaurant's name is written only on the door, and in pretty small letters too. There was a menu in the window that Amity and I stopped to read, but it wasn't much help--the food is, shall we say, eclectic. For instance, another review mentioned this, and I'm inclined to agree: what the hell is pierogi?
Anyway. We all went inside and there were a lot of people in there, as in a huge line, as in the only reason we didn't have to wait an hour for a table was that Amity's aunt is some big important food critic and everyone was falling over themselves to get us "the best" seats. The reason the wait was so long is because, for some reason (probably due to something horrible the people in line all did in a past life), the Blue Ribbon is above taking reservations.
The Blue Ribbon is a tiny little restaurant, and a very narrow one, so they had to get a little creative with the seating in order to get as many people in as is humanly possible. Therefore, there is a long bar area with stools about six inches apart so that you have no choice but to get very friendly with your neighbor, and two of the walls are lined with a long bench and a bunch of tables. (The bench also promotes loving one's neighbor, and having a miserable meal if you don't.) There are a few tables in the middle as well, and its decoration is mostly nondescript and regular-bar-like (any of you who have been to the Jammin' Java will get strange feelings of deja vu upon entering the Blue Ribbon). Supposedly this is a big celebrity hangout, but we only saw that guy who plays Bobby on "The Sopranos" (although Amity is swearing on her life that the woman telling us about the chocolate Bruno was Gwyneth Paltrow).
The second we sat down at our bench, a waiter presented a hot loaf of fresh bread to our table and of course we demolished it in about three seconds flat. We were offered a wine list about the size of most nineteenth century literature, but politely declined that offer.
We didn't really have one waiter--it was more like numerous people were constantly coming over to make sure we didn't need anything. This was very nice, since in most D.C. restaurants (at least in Georgetown) it's hours after you've sat down before someone asks "By the way, did you want some drinks?" God, I sound like such a horrible little brat...the point is, the service was definitely excellent. In fact, at one point the manager came out and asked if everything was all right, and struck up a conversation with the aunt--but this could have just been because she's high up on the food world ladder.
Most of the food is reasonably priced...the dish royal paella was $98, but since I have no idea what in the world that is, it could be worth it. The average price for an entree seemed to be about $20. (By the way, any price references are from what the aunt wrote down in her little red notebook, since I didn't pay attention. Just so you know.) As appetizers, we ordered the escargot to share. The aunt seemed displeased with it and asked the waiter for garlic butter sauce (?), but he replied that this was non-traditional escargot. Well, I don't care what sauce that was, it was delicious and since Amity and I had never eaten snail before, we were surprised. (The aunt was very angry, but if she'd been expecting a certain sauce she should have mentioned that to the waiter, so I don't blame the restaurant for that one.)
For our entrees, I ordered the fried chicken, Amity the hanger steak, and the aunt a rack of lamb. The waiter had a caveat rack-of-lamb-wise: it's made to order, so it would be about forty-five minutes. She didn't object.
When all our food finally came out, the entrees did not disappoint. My chicken had a very crunchy skin and came with mashed potatoes (the middle of which had a little gravy pool) and collard greens. I didn't use the honey for my chicken, but it was all very good and reminiscent of my insane Virginia grandmother. Yes, that's a good thing.
The hanger steak came with a side of French fries, most of which I stole. Even these were a cut above normal French fries, seeing as how they weren't salty and disgusting like most. The rack of lamb had been cooked in a bunch of unusual, sort of mustard-tasting herbs that seemed to cancel out the whole garlic butter episode.
We ordered a dish called the chocolate Bruno to share amongst ourselves, which was described to us as a flourless chocolate cake on a white graham cracker with three different scoops of ice cream (white chocolate, vanilla, chocolate) and hot fudge poured over it. Needless to say, we finished it off in no time.
Amity and I came home just this morning with all sorts of stories from our day in NYC, and among those stories one of them was "you'll NEVER guess where we ate, we HAVE to go there next time we're up there!" Definitely recommended, as long as you come early--very early. Say, a day or two before you expect to eat there.