Terry and I didn’t want to travel far for dinner on Friday night. We also had a gift certificate and thought we ought to use it. To Lavomatic we went, as there is a distinct shortage of restaurants within a block or two of our house.
Lavomatic, the first restaurant in the “new” Gateway Quarter, is such a fantastic space. Changes have been made since the place opened– no more broken glasses in the boxes behind the bar, no more wall of community activities covering exposed brick as you walk in– but it still feels like a place that belongs in the neighborhood. I love the modern-meets-50s France vibe. It’s a great space.
The service is nice too– my favorite waiter from Nicholson’s, whose name I can’t remember, now works there as well. He’s from Belfast, is charming and attentive, and keeps my cocktail glass from going empty. His Irish lilt fits in a little better at Nicholson’s, but he does the cafe fare just as well as he does the kilt.
We started off with cocktails– I got an apple butter, which involves butterscotch, apple cider and spiced rum- that was by far the highlight of the meal. You know how I love a good cocktail– and this is a great one. Sweet but not too sweet, well balanced– just great.
I wish the rest of the meal was half as good.
The original menu of French bistro fare with a local twist is gone, replaced by “comfort food” with a twist. This is a trend that is creeping up and down Vine Street (Mayberry, Senate), but Lavomatic misses the mark. Instead of comfort food, the cuisine comes off as clumsy. We decided to focus on starters– someone in the neighborhood had mentioned that they had gotten feedback that they needed “bar food”. First out were the tater tots ($7.50). A few tots on top of some tomato sauce, drizzled with truffle oil. The saying goes that using truffle oil is the sign of a weak chef– I disagree, generally, as I’ve had some amazing stuff that involved truffle oil– but in this case, it seems like they wanted to “upscale” something considered downscale with little effort. It tasted exactly as it sounds: tomato, truffle oil, fried potato. It was seriously underwhelming, and honestly, not good.
The next dish were their sloppy joe sliders. These, too, were underwhelming– nothing unexpected or interesting– and not much different than what I might do at home. It reminded me of the crock pot stuff my family made for big gatherings when I was a kid. I expected a twist– something to make it outstanding– and it wasn’t there. The sauce wasn’t quite spicy enough, the bread a little too dense. Not inedible, but not fantastic.
Lastly, we got the beer cheese. This was actually pretty good. Served with a chewy, pretzel-style bread, the cheese itself was flavorful, rich, and had a very distinct beer flavor (an ale of some sort, I think). This was a definite win.
A couple of the desserts sounded good, so we each ordered one. Terry picked the bread pudding, which, while the texture was overall dry, the flavor was nice. It needed a sauce of some sort to really complete the dish. I chose the trio of ice creams– three flavors which sounded really interesting: Pepsi, Popcorn and Malted Milk. Yum, sort of like movie snacks in ice cream form! Unfortunately, all of them just tasted like ice cream base– vaguely creamy and sweet, but definitely no Pepsi or Popcorn flavor, and only a vague hint of malted flavor. Very disappointing– I love adventurous desserts, and this just wasn’t.
I keep trying, folks. I really do. But since Joanne Drilling left Lavomatic, it just hasn’t been the same. I’ve tried for brunch. I’ve tried for dinner. I’ve tried for drinks. The winner? Grab some of their craft cocktails and some beer cheese to share. It’s fun to sit and drink a cocktail and watch the world go by in the front window. What they need to do is step up their game– I hope that the Senate across the street will help them do that, as right now, with no competition in OTR, they don’t have to. I would love Lavomatic to be successful, as I want any business in OTR to be successful– but right now, they’re just skating by.