It's as if someone had taken a magic wand to the former 21 Main, transforming the pricey, stuffy steakhouse into someplace hip, young and affordable. While the setting remains a stately Victorian manse, the interior of the new Bluestone Tavern has been redone, with floor-to-ceiling wainscoting in pale weathered wood and accents of stone and brick. Visually, the place is a knockout.
Early one Friday night, when the bar is hopping, there are still some booths available in the no-reservations dining room. Big surprise: wines by the bottle are half price, so a respectable $24 Malbec costs just $12. And that's the way it is almost every Monday to Friday evening.
The wine works well with such whimsical, spirited appetizers as Asian-style braised short rib sliders. And with chicken parm pops -- three spiced ground chicken meatballs on Popsicle sticks, each topped with melted mozzarella. Achieving liftoff: a meatball flight comprising three spheres -- lobster-chive, beef-tomato and pork-apple. On a quiet weeknight, steamed Asian vegetable dumplings turn out to be delicate and al dente. Juxtaposing the spicy with the sweet is a round flatbread topped with grilled shrimp, pineapple and a chipotle-tomato relish. A shame that relish is undermined by pale, watery tomatoes. And somebody should have toasted and buttered the hollowed-out brioche that forms the base of the lobster salad-filled "lobster bowl."
But a seared tuna salad, made with napa cabbage and other crunchy vegetables, is lovely, if a trifle short on tuna. Hitting all the right notes: a grilled chicken sandwich with smoked Gouda and chipotle mayo. And a marinated sirloin sandwich with onions, peppers and blue cheese. While a cheeseburger is cooked a bit beyond the requested medium-rare, it turns out to be juicy and savory nonetheless, served with fine hand-cut fries. Simple and satisfying: roast chicken in natural juices with fingerling potatoes and baby carrots.
A brownie sundae makes for a pleasing conclusion, as does a layered "silk and satin" cheesecake. But the finale that truly captures the spirit of the place is "milk and cookies" -- two warm chocolate chip cookies placed rakishly atop a mini chocolate shake.