Theater District Dining
By Ann Blask
All photographs in this article by Jim Bush.
Whether you’re downtown for a curtain at eight, a face-off at HSBC, a summer ball game, or a noontime concert, there are some very tempting choices for pre and post event dining.
The Bijou Grille.
Directly across the street from Shea’s is the ever-popular, ever-bustling Bijou Grille. Pre-theater dinner, after-the-show dessert and coffee, or for those late-night snack attacks, this contemporary, metropolitan restaurant gets top billing.
Owned by one of Buffalo’s well-known family of restauranteurs, Michael Militello, along with sister Bea Montone and brother Bobby, of the Tralfalmadore Café, the Bijou is an ever-evolving part of the downtown theater scene. “A restaurant in the theater district has to be a bit schizophrenic,” says Michael. “It must have options for people who just want a quick sandwich after a movie at the Market Arcade, as well as those who want a full-course meal before a performance at Shea’s.”
The menu, created by chefs Michael Greco, Anthony Sole, and Jason Kantos reflects that theme. There are pizzas, burgers, and hot and cold sandwiches, as well as a wonderful variety of salads, appetizers and entrees.
The California Chopped Salad, a Bijou specialty, with mozzarella, salami, and red peppers, comes in half or full portions and can be topped with chicken or shrimp. For lighter appetites, the full size is generous enough for two people. In addition to daily specials, there are nearly a dozen entrée choices, including Classic Cioppino, a seafood soup with shrimp, scallops and mussels in a saffron seafood broth. Besides the menu-mustschicken, beef, and seafoodthere are some interesting pasta preparations. Thai Noodes, for example, is a mix of sprouts, snow peas, bell and hot peppers, and mushrooms over angel hair pasta with a lemon-grass ginger broth and fresh cilantro.
The signature dish, listed as an appetizer, but also a favorite on the Late Night Menu is, Pacific Crab Cakes. Made with all lump crab, no fillers, Michael guarantees, “they are the best anywhere in America.”
Though food is the focus of his business, part of Militello’s success is his talent for restaurant design and concept. He is often hired to design restaurants and entertainment venues in other parts of the country. His creativity is certainly apparent at the Bijou. The once open-air front patio has been transformed into a convertible indoor/outdoor dining area with huge windows that close it in when the weather gets cool. 100-year-old Tiffany glass panels from the bar at his former restaurant, Mulligan’s, have been restyled and made into overhead lights in the main restaurant, and framed with gathered silk to create chandeliers in the two beautiful, new, private dining rooms upstairs. Signed Chagall and Dali prints have been added upstairs, while the main eye-catcher downstairs is a wall-size photo of Gene Kelly, Donald O’Connor, and Debbie Reynolds from Singin’ in the Rain. Look closely. It was autographed by Debbie Reynolds when she appeared at Shea’s a few years ago.
Adding to the show-biz mood, the entertainment at the Bijou sometimes begins before you even enter. During warm weather, the live musicfeatured Thursday-Saturdaybegins outside. You can hear the music from blocks away. It’s an inviting draw, particularly for those attending the outdoor concerts at “Thursdays in the Square.”
643 Main Street
With one entrance facing Franklin St., and the other on Pearl, this restaurant is in the very heart of Buffalo’s lively and every-growing Theater District.
Open just a little more than one year, the Brownstone Bistro was awarded top honors for Best New Restaurant in the Artvoice annual contest. It’s not just the food people like, it’s the whole experience, including décor, ambience and service.
Originally a five-unit apartment, the building was abandoned, condemned, and eventually renovated. The new look is cosmopolitan and inviting, with exposed brick walls, lots of dark wood, and stylized lighting that beautifully accents the two-story bar, while still giving a cozy look to the main floor dining room as well as the second floor/mezzanine dining room.
During warm weather months, you can also opt for one of the patios. The “Shea’s Patio,” as the staff refer to it, is on the second floor facing the rear marquee of Shea’s Buffalo Center for the Performing Arts. Even a light drizzle doesn’t deter the crowd since the addition of an awning that shelters about 15 tables. The lower level, “New Orleans Patio,” facing Franklin, though much smaller, is equally lively. Outdoor speakers echo the music from inside, usually light jazz. On weekends the entertainment is live, with vocalists or instrumental soloists performing throughout the evening.
Executive chef Scott Bogucki and General Manager Jerry McCarthy have put together an eclectic menu for pre-theater dining or after-the-show and late-night options.
Steak and seafood are their specialties, but the Tapas are sure to spark your interest. Thai Chicken Dumplings, served in a pool of sweet mango ginger sauce, is as delicious as it sounds. Among the other popular appetizers is Tuna Sashimi with a raspberry wasabi créme fraiche and pea shoots, and the chef’s own Smoked Salmon Paté.
One of the most exciting entrées is the Brownstone Cobb Salad. “What’s so special about a salad,” you may wonder. This one includes tenderloin tips, crawfish, and prosciutto, along with the more traditional avocado and hard-boiled eggs.
The daily specials usually include several fish entrees. And, when availability permits, there are some exotic offerings. Japanese Yellowtail Hamachi is grilled and served with a crab and corn pancake. You’ll often find Red Tombo Steak (Hawaiian Albacore Tuna) or Fresh Filet of Uku (Hawaiian Grey Snapper) which is pan-fried in a light egg wash and served with a blood orange butter sauce.
After the show, or for a late night nibble, you can opt for a specialty coffee or a tempting sweet. The favorites are Macadamia Nut Cheesecake and Oreo Bomb, a chocolate-lover’s delight.
A special perk for theater-goers is the complimentary valet parking. From dinnertime until the wee hours of the morning, you can leave your car, walk to the show, then pick it up after your apres theater treat.
297 Franklin St.
lunch Mon-Fri 11:30am ñ 3pm
dinner daily until 11pm
A block from Dunn Tire Park and within cheering distance of HSBC Arena, City Grill is where action-packed nights often begin.
Transformed from an old department store, this spacious, upbeat restaurant has a multi-level dining area and a large downstairs bar, which can accommodate the crowds when there’s a hockey game or concert at the arena.
Still, there are some nights you may not even be lucky enough to find standing room. “When the Sabre’s play Toronto or Montreal it’s wild,” says General Manager Michael DePue. “The whole place looks like the Battle of the Jerseys, with all the fans wearing their team shirts.”
Game night or not, there are always some winning tastes on the menu. Grilled steaks and Mesquite Pork Loin are mainstays along with the homemade Chicken Pot Pie. Or choose from the extensive list of appetizers, salads, and sandwiches. You’ll find all the favoritesburgers, wings, quesadillas, and pizzaas well as a few more unusual things, like the Jamaican “Jerk” Chicken sandwich, served with grilled pineapple and banana mayo, or the Garden Vegetable & Hummus Wrap, a jalapeno cheddar wrap filled with a variety of vegetables and hummus.
Thursday is “Sushi Day,” with fresh-made varieties for lunch and dinner. Another special event is the Chef’s Dinner, offered every Saturday night. Designed and prepared by well-known chef Mark Camalleri, the prix fixe meal ($40) includes an appetizer, entrée and dessert, as well as wine with each course.
If you’re stopping in for just a drink and a snack to share with friends, try the Wine Board, an assortment of cheeses, fruit, bread, and crackers or the Blue Crab, Artichoke, and Spinach Dip served with grilled pita bread.
City Grill, interior view.
Whatever you decide on, there is an extensive wine list highlighting a number of New York State labels, including the very popular Dr. Konstantin Frank Chardonnay from the Finger Lakes.
And, if you’re a martini drinker, this is the place for you. Besides the classic martini, City Grill mixes up the Kosmopolitan, made with Ketel One Citroën Vodka, Triple Sec, cranberry juice, and fresh lime and Malcom’s Chocolate Martini made with Absolut Vodka and White Créme de Cacao.
This drink was named for Malcom Bonney, an internationally acclaimed Buffalo artist, whose enormous oil paintings are the focal point of the restaurant.
An exciting plus at City Grill is their special Dinner/Theater package for select performances at Shea’s, the Studio Arena, and the Buffalo Philharmonic. The package includes a three-course meal and preferred seating at the performance. For Theater District performances, you can hop on the Metro Rail directly in front of the restaurant and be there in five minutes.
768 Main Street
lunch Mon-Fri from 11am
dinner Mon-Sat until 9pm
open Sundays when there is a game or concert at HSBC Arena
Ann Blask is a consultant and freelance writer from Orchard Park.
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