Saturday, April 30, 2005

Papa J's Wine & Lobster Bar, East Belfast
After hauling wood around all day so that we were sore and crabby, Greg took me out on a date last night, sweet boy that he is. We decided to try the new restaurant that opened in East Belfast yesterday. I'd read about it in Village Soup and it sounded interesting. I knew there wouldn't be a lot on the menu for me since it bills itself as a lobster bar, but we decided to try it.
The restaurant opened up in the old Fat Boy's Diner. It promises great water views, but the windows overlook the RV resort, which is fine for right now since there are no patrons in the resort, but come summer, thats what you'll see when you look out the windows, a sea of shiny metal and lots of lawn chairs. So anyway, the interior has been spiffed up and we give them an A for effort there. A nice deep red wall color greets you in the foyer upon arrival, there are different shaped and colored lampshades over each of the tables, and two dining areas, both with televisions tuned to sporting events (strike one for a wine bar). Unfortunately, I felt that we were in a restaurant that was trying really hard not to be a diner, but failed. It tried to be cozy, but was a bit cold for me...floors painted a flat grey, diner tables with ugly abstract painted designs in mauve and gold, and wierd posters tacked to the accustical tiles on the ceiling. Just not the atmosphere for a place that calls itself a wine bar.
Service was very friendly and our server was so attentive. While they cleaned a table for us by the window, we were waiting out front and several people smiled and asked if we were being helped. The wine list was extensive and the prices were very reasonable. The red wine glasses are huge and fit nicely in one's hand. The owner came over to pour Greg's wine, but didn't welcome us until Greg asked if he was the owner. The first pour of wine was a bit small to the point where we looked at each other because it was noticeable. Greg wants me to mention that if you call yourself a wine bar, and you have enormous wine glasses, you should please your customers by filling the damn thing up more than a 1/4 full!! He said he'd even pay more for a better pour. My stoli on the rocks came in a small stemmed glass crammed with ice. I hate small rocks glasses primarily because I am a big guy and have large hands.
Menu was brought out to us on a chalk board and most everything was seafood. Besides seared sea scallops, lobster stew and clam chowder, the appetizers were standard bar fare..mozzerella sticks, wings, and jalapeno poppers, which I was dismayed about...have something a bit more original. I must say the prices are very reasonable. I chose what I thought said Penne Chicken (12.95, but no pasta arrived with it, so I think it had something to do with being pan fried. Greg had the 1 1/4 lb lobster for 14.95. Each came with a salad of greens with tomatos, red peppers and purple onions. We chose the house dressing of balsamic and roasted garlic vinagrette which was excellent. A lovely looking basket of warm herb bread came out with the salads. The bread smelled great, but was completely tasteless. I think it was bread machine bread which has a tendancy to be really flat tasting...whoever made this bread forgot to put in the salt to unify the flavors. The lobster arrived and Greg said it was really sweet and perfectly cooked. He had a great time tearing into it and ate every bite. My chicken came out next with a side of garlic mashed potatos. It was a boneless breast with a lemon caper sauce on top., (no capers to be found though). I carved into it and found that it was undercooked and still pink in the middle. I asked the owner, who stood at a bar table next to us with his friends all evening, to have it cooked a bit more because it was still pink in the middle and he looked at me and said "so you want it well done?" and I immediately said, "well, I'd like it cooked so its not raw in the middle." when it came back, it was cooked through and was really tasty. The caper sauce was actually sweet onion garlic and lemon that was really nice. The garlic mashed potatos were good, needed to be a less dense. They were unceremoniously plopped on my plate with an ice cream scoop, reminding me of institutional food. I was served my white chicken and white potatoes on a white plate with no garnish or side fact, no vegetables were offered at all. Even though the food was good, there needs to be a bit of creativity on the plate if one wants to be a wine bar and not a diner.
Desserts were lemon merengue, apple or bluberry pie and we passed, craving something a bit more in keeping with a nicer meal, some chocolate confection or rich cheesecake (we stopped at Darby's on the way home and split carrot cake and another drink.)
We got out of there for about $50.00 for four drinks and dinner. Not bad at all. I do think it will be a total tourist draw in the summer. One thing I have to mention that really got to us was the acoustics in the place. It might have just been the loud people at the bar, but we could hear every word and every laugh coming from every corner to the point that it was annoying as hell. A couple of single women at the bar were flirting with a guy and they were shouting and laughing this really shrill laugh that grated. Maybe a carpet to deaden the voices.
I left liking the food, but not the restaurant itself. I wanted more from a place that bills itself as a wine bar. Wine bars should have jazz piano playing softly in the background, should be dark and cozy, should have white tablecloths and waiters in white aprons. Perhaps I am expecting too much, because this is the way wine bars are in the big city. Papa J's is essentially a diner with good food lamely disguised as a restaurant.
Atmosphere: B-
Food: B (would have been higher save for the uncooked chicken, lack of vegetables and bad bread)
Service: A