Evening restaurant review
THIS RESTAURANT HAS NOW CLOSED
Baxter’s American, a relatively new restaurant, is housed in the same space that was formerly Butterfly. Butterfly never really seemed to hit it’s stride. Whilst this exported San Franciscan restaurant had a great concept, it’s pricing, location, and ambiance never really clicked. It seemed an incongruous bed fellow to the adjoining Depot music venue. Who wants complex Asian-fusion dining before a rock concert? Not many I’d wager. The Depot calls for something totally different, and Baxter’s American is the polar opposite.
A spur of the moment decision saw us down town and quickly leaving our car with the valet ($5 if you dine at the restaurant). It was a blustery evening and we were glad to hurry inside. We were greeted by a friendly hostess who led us to our choice of table and took our damp coats.
The change in décor was immediately obvious. Gone is the uber-hip, cold modern design style of Butterfly. In it’s place, a more relaxed space with a much warmer color palette. Copper sheets mask the ceilings, funky art rests on the walls and a diverse mix of seating fills the dining space. Standard booths, simple elegant tables, and comfortable sofa seating are all available (you can even sit up at the bar for a snack and cocktail). We enviously eyed a group of diners who had snagged a window side table, replete with super-comfy looking seats.
The first task was to decide on drinks, so we scoured the wine list. The wine menu had 4-5 red and white of options by the glass. I opted for a glass of the McMurray Pinot Noir ($9) and Wendi the Bonterra Cabenet Sauvignon ($10). With our drink orders promptly taken, we browsed the menu. It was only then that we realised Baxter’s offers a range of special house martinis. These cocktails are listed down the side of the food menu. We should have looked closer at our menus before ordering our wine. We would probably have tried a pre-dinner cocktail if we saw these first.
The menu has a quirky naming take on some popular items. I had known about this in advance from a review over at ASKSLC. Options include “Halibut Has a Bad Hairday”, “Not Your Mother’s Meatloaf” and going to the literal extreme, “A Very Large Hamburger”. Initially I was wary that the restaurant might be a little on the gimmicky side, but sitting in the relaxing dining space enjoying the friendly service, things just kinda seemed to work. Wendi and I commented to each other several times along the lines of, “It’s really nice and comfortable in here.” Overall the menu seems to be comprised of comfort food with flair.
We decided to start by sharing the Layered Ceviche (Shrimp, Scallops, Calamari, Halibut in Lime & Yuzu, Mango Tomatos and Chilli $8.95):
The ceviche came with deep fried tortilla-like chips. Our waitress recommend we simply empty the glass containing the ceviche onto the plate for better sharing. It proved a wise tip and we both eagerly dug in:
We both instantly approved of the citrusy hit of the Lime and the sweetness of the mango. Wendi immediately commented this would be a great summer dish. (Wendi’s note – I can’t wait to go back to Baxter’s in the summer and have cocktails and ceviche for dinner!) We were also fans of the kick provided by the chilli. The deep fried tortilla chips added a welcome hint of richness to the cool freshness of the ceviche. At $9, the serving was also very generous, indeed I am glad we shared. It would be quite some appetizer for one person alone. As an aside I did also catch a glimpse of the Onion Rings ($7.25) being served behind us, they seemed to be an equally impressive portion size.
For her main dish Wendi went with the Pesto Pistachio Salmon (with Sweet Pea Parmesan Risotto, $19..50):
The salmon was cooked well, and topped with a lovely pesto that complemented it perfectly. The fish was served with a vinaigrette sauce and topped with pistachios, which added a little bit of crunch.
Wendi loved the risotto, commenting it was deliciously cheesy and creamy, just the way risotto should be.
I couldn’t resist myself, and ordered the Halibut Has A Bad Hairday (Alaskan Halibut in a Crust of Shredded Phyllo, Brandied Lobster Sauce and Vegetable Couscous, $19.50):
Visually the dish lived up to the playful name. The halibut was well done, perhaps just slightly overcooked, in its crispy phyllo covering. I feel the dish has potential, but the balancing act of perfectly cooking the fish and pastry at the same time is a tough one, as anyone who has cooked beef wellington will appreciate. The accompanying couscous was well executed. It was on the creamy side, which isn’t personally to my tastes. Wendi really enjoyed the couscous, proving it’s really only me that doesn’t appreciate creamy foods. (Wendi’s note 2 – yep, you’re crazy.)
Baxter’s features a range of optional side dishes, from a variety of mashed potatoes through vegetables and mushroom bread pudding. These all come in at a wallet friendly $4.00. Given the focus on comfortable dining, I’d wager you would have no issue swapping a few items around. E.g., for myself I’d imagine they would happily swap the couscous for some mashed potatoes or fries on a future visit. At least that’s the impression I took from the friendly accommodating service during our visit.
The relaxed nature of the Baxter’s dining experience was again evident during dessert. Rather than a separate menu or big cart of fake sweets being wheeled out, our waitress listed that days options. I realise this approach is used elsewhere, here it reminded us that they had gone to much effort to re-enforce the laid back vibe, and it provided with an opportunity to ask questions. A house speciality seems to be the freshly fried donuts with a selection of dipping sauces. I did see an order float by our table earlier in the evening and it looked delicious, we wanted something a little lighter though, and went for the Neapolitan Ice Cream (served in house made shell $7.00):
Supplied by the local Spotted Dog Creamery, the dessert combined three big scoops of the classic flavors topped with fresh berries and a little chocolate sauce. The house-made shell was also a hit with Wendi, and indeed the waitress, who told us some of the staff love just to snack on a plain shell from time to time. The ice cream topped off an excellent meal overall.
I also feel Baxter’s American partners much more effectively with the adjoining Depot. I could see many more concert-goers having a pre-dinner meal here than at the previous Butterfly. The menu is far more accessible with fare like Hamburger & Fries ($10.25).
For a restaurant open only a short while, the quality of the food and service at Baxter’s American was impressive. We both thoroughly enjoyed our visit and are already planning our next trip.