On The Menu: Blackbird Dining Establishment

On The Menu: Blackbird Dining Establishment

Blackbird Dining Establishment [3], located on the site of what was for years a hardware store, now is home to the culinary constructions of chef Alex Capasso.

Since opening Blackbird in April 2007, Capasso has earned rave reviews with his French-Italian cuisine with the occasional Asian influence, including three coveted “bells” from Philadelphia Inquirer critic Craig LaBan, who has called Capasso one of his favorite young chefs.

“We’re certainly the first in Collingswood to offer what I call a contemporary menu,” Capasso says. “We’re a nice addition to the mix, and [diners] are just so happy this sort of restaurant is in town. A lot of people say it’s the type of place that should be in New York.”

Capasso credits much of the restaurant’s success to its painstaking preparation in the kitchen. All of the pastas are made by hand, and the meats are butchered in-house. Accepting whole animals and preparing them on-site allows the kitchen to get creative with unusual cuts of meat, he says.

At one point, the kitchen was processing three whole goats a week as Capasso offered a study of baby goat, including such dishes as potato-goat cheese ravioli with braised goat shank and seared goat tenderloin. The goat dishes “flew out of here,” he says.

“Over the course of time, customers have come to trust me in preparing dishes that you might not find in the average South [4] Jersey restaurant,” he adds. “People look forward to coming here because they can try something new in an atmosphere where they feel comfortable. If they’ve never had sweet-breads, they can count on us to do it the right way. Or foie gras, or rabbit.”

That trust fuels Capasso’s creativity.

To keep the menu fresh for both himself and his patrons, he changes offerings frequently to reflect new ideas and seasonal bounties. He estimates, for example, that the restaurant has served more than 30 types of fish in its first year of operation.

Dishes currently on the menu include Chilean sea bass with olive polenta and Provençale sauce as well as potato gnocchi with mozzarella and tomato-basil sauce. Earlier this year, porcini-dusted grouper with wild-mushroom risotto and cèpe jus was a best seller.

“I like to change it up to keep myself motivated, keep the kitchen staff motivated and the front-of-the-house sharp,” he says.

About 90 percent of the menu changes during the periodic revamps, but several menu staples always make an appearance, including the potato gnocchi and the Blackbird Salad with romaine lettuce and creamy Parmesan dressing.

Outside the kitchen, Capasso also works to maintain a connection with local business associations and schools.

DINNER SPRING 2008
~APPETIZERS~
~Vineyard Snails, fresh herbs, truffle butter sauce$10
~Panko Crusted Oysters, plum dipping sauce, soy glaze$12
~Fricassee of Prince Edward Island Mussels, fresh herbs, natural jus$10
~Peanut Sesame Crusted Thai Chicken Spring Rolls, spicy mustard, sweet chile sauce $11
~Blackbird Romaine Salad, creamy lemon Parmesan dressing$7
~Chilled calamari, green apple, moche, miso dressing$11
~Freshly sliced yellow tomato, baby arugula, locatelli cheese, tomato dressing$9
~Fresh Mozzarella & Roasted Peppers, prosciutto, bresaola, basil pesto$8
~PASTA~
~Handmade Potato Gnocchi, fresh mozzarella, tomato-basil sauce$10/$19
~Linguini, cockle clams, spinach, garlic & olive oil$11/$21
~Three Cheese Agnolotti, prosciutto, peas, parmesan cream$9/$18
~Pappardelle, shrimp Bolognese$12/$24
~FISH~
~Crispy Striped Bass, cucumber-pear salad, tarragon pesto $26
~Pan-Seared Chilean Sea Bass, creamy olive polenta, Provencal sauce$29
~Seared Tuna, Chinese eggplant, ginger sauce$28
~Pan-Roasted Cod, fricassee of white anchovies, peas, artichokes and potatoes, lemon-olive oil emulsion$28
~MEAT~
~Pan-Roasted Tenderloin of Veal, fricassee of morels and asparagus, sherry cream$29
~Pan-Seared Strip Steak, potato & zucchini gratin, bordelaise sauce$28
~Breast of Free Range Chicken, succotash risotto, jus de poulet$23
~Corriander-Crusted Tenderloin of Lamb, lavender scented jasmine rice with curried cauliflower, natural lamb jus, mint essence$27

He is a co-founder of the New Jersey Independent Restaurant Association, whose mission is to boost the profiles and successes of area chefs and operators.

“South Jersey is plagued by corporate restaurants,” he says. “We don’t have the same marketing dollars as corporate chains, and when you put the independent up against the corporate restaurant, the independent kind of disappears and people go to chains by virtue of the fact that they didn’t know we were here.”

AT A GLANCE

Opened: April 2007Cuisine: French-Italian with Asian influencesAverage check: $50 per personSeats: 72Chef-owner: Alex CapassoWebsite:www.blackbirdnj.com

To offset that disadvantage, Blackbird participates in local fundraisers and also has multicourse, prix-fixe promotional dinners planned throughout this summer, including a bacon-theme dinner, a salad tasting, a foie gras dinner and a Farm to Fork [5] event featuring local products.

He’s also planning a new concept, a “gastrodiner,” to be located across the street from Blackbird. Renovations began earlier this year.

“The best way to describe it would be a diner’s greatest hits but on the same culinary level as Blackbird,” he says. “Imagine a truffle chicken pot pie or a veal meat loaf.”