Restaurant review: SamB's ****
SamB's practically wrote the book on bistro cuisine in Bowling Green. The menu is a perfect representation of the unassuming college town; smart, quiet, and a little traditional.
The location lacks some of the funky appeal of their old space on North Main Street, but with high-end art adorning the walls, and sophisticated low key alt-rock quietly setting the stage, the overall impression is classy but comfortable. Warm woods, flickering candles, and unobtrusive but friendly service give an easy elegance to a space as appropriate for a night out as it is for families.
For lunch, we opted for the grilled reuben ($7.99) and the black and blue burger ($6.50.) The reuben featured thinly sliced marbled rye, sauerkraut, swiss cheese, and extremely lean corned beef. The black and blue burger was excellent. A large patty of buttery ground beef is perfectly accented by tart blue cheese and a fresh crisp bun. We found the coleslaw a little bland without enough of a crisp bite to contend with the sandwiches.
Dinners are served with salad featuring homemade dressings, fresh bread, and butter. The house dressing was good, but standard, whereas the fresh blue cheese dressing was truly amazing, possibly the best I've had, with large lush chunks of tart Roquefort.
The bread also was excellent; fresh and warm with a chewy body and crisp, flaky crust. The French onion soup ($3.99) easily could be overlooked with a comparatively subtle beef broth that was less salty than most, but the swiss cheese was good and the homemade croutons remained firm and chewy.
I ordered the salmon diplomat ($19.99,) honestly doubtful of pairing hollandaise and a crab mixture of cheese and herbs to a delicate salmon steak. I was more than pleasantly surprised. The delicate hollandaise provided an indulgent stage for the fresh Atlantic salmon and rich crab topping. The salmon again was executed perfectly; baked to that exact moment where it remains moist, velvety, and meaty.
The presentation was a little lackluster - especially with the mashed potatoes. But, those mashed potatoes more than made up for it. They were memorable, with big lumps of fresh potato and a tart hint of buttermilk.
We also ordered the surf and turf ($23.99.) An exercise in excess, the entree features an eight-ounce steak topped with that crab mixture again, named on the menu as Crab Imperial, along with a Maryland crab cake. The steak was perfectly seasoned and aged, although the crab mixture didn't work in perfect concert as it had with the salmon. The crab cake was magnificent. Crab cakes seem to fall to the extremes; the cheap versions are all breading and the opposite are all meat with no balance. SamB's struck the perfect balance with enough seasoned crisp breading paired with fresh meaty crab, and a drizzle of tart aioli.
But the true star of the table was the hazelnut creme brulee ($4.95.) We ordered it along with chocolate almond mousse cake ($4.50.) The mousse cake was marvelous and exceedingly rich with fresh whipped cream and thinly sliced almonds. The creme brulee could be the gold standard to which all others are rated, truly one of the best there is. The delicate creme was neither over or under cooked, satiny and rich, with a subtle hint of hazelnut and coffee. The crust was uniform, crisp, and golden, and topped with a dollop of fresh whipped cream and a few espresso beans; brilliant.
Overall, the cuisine comes off as a technical show of perfection, the preparations, and seasonings are truly some of the best in northwest Ohio, like a culinary master-class, relying on quality and skill over gimmick and facade.
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