BLVD25 New American Kitchen
1496 Northern Blvd., Manhasset
SERVICE: Not their first rodeo — as professional as they come
AMBIENCE: A grey-on-grey aerie of geometric patterns and plush booths
ESSENTIALS: Open Monday to Thursday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.; Sunday 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Credit cards accepted. Parking and entrance at the back of the restaurant. Both stairs and an elevator reach the upstairs dining room
If perseverance alone earned medals, Justin Aronoff would be wearing gold. It was two-and-a-half years ago when Aronoff, then all of 23, leased a bi-level Manhasset space for his first restaurant, BLVD25 — just a little extracurricular project for a guy who already ran a butchery and catering company, Center Cuts in Roslyn.
Aronoff thought transforming what had long been Nick & Pedro’s into a new American restaurant “would be turnkey,” he said. Two-plus years of renovations, inspections and permits later, BLVD25 finally opened in midsummer. If there was a silver lining to all that planning, it is that he and consulting chef John Brill have created a bistro nearly meticulous on all fronts, though one that chooses precision over adventure.
You climb a flight of stairs (or take an elevator) to reach BLVD25’s dining room, an assertively grey-on-grey space of geometric patterns and a bank of high, cushioned booths. With the Miracle Mile and a string of day spas within spitting distance, one wonders if it was slightly custom-built for the ladies-who-lunch crowd.
Whipping through that ocean of neutrals on the regular are effervescent servers on top of their games, and who take a team approach to table service. Aronoff himself will probably stop by, too, to both check in and ask where you’re from. He seems keen to know his audience and adjust accordingly, though within the safe lines of the solidly American menu. If you eat out a lot on Long Island, choosing between, say, pan-seared salmon or a pork chop with balsamic-fig glaze can feel like déjà vu. And how much kung pao calamari can one Long Islander consume? What BLVD25 lacks in thrills, though, it makes up for in execution. That calamari, for instance, is expertly crisped, showered in peanuts, sticky with a dark sesame, Chinese-esque sauce (pan-Asian touches are rife), and perched atop a cooling slaw — in other words, it’s legit.
Dinner will roll on like this, in artfully plated ways from chef Billy Liebhart, such as the pitch-perfect, shrimp-and-crab cake (not much filler here) with more kohlrabi slaw with a rivulet of tangy rémoulade. Or tuna tartare that wedges cubes of silken fish, whipped avocado and ribbons of pickled ginger together in a meticulous, delicately flavored orb. Tuna nachos, a refreshing twist on the usually gut buster, is zotzed up with mango salsa but also bore a rare misstep: Ahi tuna the color of chocolate, probably because of pre-cutting, though it still tasted fine.
The queen of starters is on the specials list, though: A clam flatbread, charred in places and smeared with nutty, melted fontina, garlicky clam meat and toasted breadcrumbs, a briny, lavish ticket to Valhalla.
As you might expect from a butcher-owner, chops are expertly cut and grilled, such a boneless rib-eye sporting impeccable char marks and an alluring pineapple-soy glaze (but also an undercooked, oversized baked potato) or a tomahawk pork loin chop with the same peppery outer char and succulent meat (thanks to a brine), though its balsamic glaze was too sparing and lacked oomph.
Seasonal touches abound, such as the tumble of corn, tomatoes, zucchini and eggplant that serve as a summery bed for a blackened swordfish steak bearing a crown of crispy onions. Or perfectly seared scallops on an expanse of green beans, corn and tomatoes, a smear of fresh hummus adding an earthy tone.
Those scallops, though, were kind of gritty, a crack in BLVD25’s careful veneer. Another came in the form of two salads — one, watermelon with feta, and another, roasted beets with goat cheese — that were each drowning in an acidic orange dressing. Then there was the bowl of seared filet mignon tips and pappardelle, slathered in a wild mushroom ragu, that tasted muddled and way too rich.
By the time you cross the finish line with a warm, freshly baked brownie, kick-butt caramel ice cream melting across its face, you might feel like you’ve just eaten the equivalent of an ice-skating routine that was technically beautiful but somehow lacked originality. BLVD25 does not aim to reinvent the wheel, but this kitchen is clearly capable of operating at a high level. If and when it ventures from its comfort zone, it has the potential to be among our very best bistros.