Editor's note: With "In the Midnight Hour," Zachary Feldman will take you to a different late-night eatery every week. And Blue Ribbon is one of the classics.
I'm not prone to rash judgment, but really—is there a more iconic late night eatery in the New York food world than the Blue Ribbon flagship in Soho? With a daily 4am closing time, chefs, restaurateurs and other movers and shakers of the industry all end up here on a nightly basis, supping on well-composed plates culled from across the globe in a pitch-perfect bistro atmosphere—there's something to be said for gaining the respect and admiration of your peers.
There's also a wait.
If you go to Blue Ribbon before 1:00 am on a weeknight, expect to wait. If you go to Blue Ribbon at anytime during the weekend, expect to wait. Stick around, and you'll be treated to an experience as "New York" as unidentifiable subway smells. The Brothers Bromberg, the dynamic owners and chefs, have a cadre of well-regarded restaurants under their belts, including a sister Blue Ribbon in Park Slope that's a favorite of hard-partying stroller moms (a boy can dream).
The menu runs the gamut, hopping around from bistro staples like steak tartare and country pate to more global offerings like paellas, tofu ravioli, and Pu Pu platters. There is also a raw bar that churns out sea creatures at lightning speed, thanks to an incredibly talented apprentice who has been shucking for years.
Dropping a crusty loaf of Blue Ribbon Bakery bread off at the table, our waiter bobbed his head to the music, a bass-thumping tune. "You got here just in time for the best part of the playlist." He was right—save for a questionable Dido cover thrown in between the hip hop and acid jazz.
Escargot ($14.50), earthy on their own, are best used as couriers for flavor, and the splendid preparation here puts a velvet-thick wine sauce front and center, letting the snails soak up the supporting tastes of yam, apple and bacon. To my dismay, there were a few lardons with unrendered fat present, but that sauce overshadowed any kinks.
From the Fruits de Mer, we chose New Orleans shrimp ($16.75) for their accompanying spiced mayonnaise. Buttery and sweet, disassembling the massive head-on prawns makes quite a mess, perfect for a postprandial game of "shrimp hands" (Google it).
Sides here don't feel like an afterthought. A delicate rendition of leek vinaigrette ($10.75) yielded with little effort, sprightly under fine slivers of scallion and red pepper.
A brasserie classic, the generous beef marrow & oxtail marmalade ($16.75) offers luxurious depth. The rendered marmalade bolsters marrow's protein-rich unctuousness—the only reason for using bread is to avoid getting your shrimp hands dirty.
At nearly 4:00 am, a rush of diners appeared in succession, hoping to make it before last call—this was on a Tuesday night. Couples filled out seats in the outside booths and tables, while a group of fashionable, hard-jawed haute monde picked at an imposing seafood tower. A lone diner sat in the middle of the room, reading under a dark amber glow. The wild thing is, it's been like this pretty much since day one... for 18 years, and she's still a beaut.
18 years old and likes to stay up well into the night? I always was a sucker for bad girls.