Last night I went out with some co-workers for drinks and appetizers at the Blue Heron Restaurant in Sunderland. I'd never been to The Blue Heron before, but I'd heard many reviews about how incredible it was - the ultimate fine dining experience, in many people's opinions. Mr. valleywriter and I always intend to go sometime, but it's a little out of the way for us, so we just never seem to think of it.
Last night when I walked in, I was immediately impressed with the atmosphere. The walls were painted in warm, rich colors and the lighting was soft and intimate. The bar sits immediately at the top of the stairs, with the main dining room to the right and a smaller dining area to the left of the bar. We had a table in that smaller bar area, right in front of a cozy, warm fireplace.
We ordered drinks first, but since I'm on methotrexate for my RA (and therefore limited to about 1 drink every other week), I had to stick to the non-alcoholic options, which is always less fun. I was surprised to see, however, that they did actually list some non-alcoholic options on their cocktail menu. (My experience in the last 2 months since I've basically become a non-drinker is that bars and restaurants rarely seem to list non-alcoholic options, so you just kind of have to throw something out there and hope they have it.)
There were about 4 different "mocktails" to choose from and I went with the cranberry cooler, which was a mix of cranberry and lemon juices and sparkling water. I'm not sure exactly what I was expecting, but it turned out to taste kind of like watered down cranberry juice. Oh well - lesson learned for next time!
Once the rest of our group got there, the appetizer ordering began. Throughout the evening, the group sampled the Artisinal cheese plate, the mezze plate with flat bread, hummus and some pickled salads, an order of homemade french fries with truffle-infused mayonnaise, the pan-seared sea scallops with applewood bacon and the salad of the day, which was a bed of organic greens topped with beets and grapefruit.
I had thought we were just going out for drinks and wasn't particularly hungry, but I did have a few bites from the cheese and mezze plates, along with a bite of a pan-seared sea scallop, a dish the Blue Heron is well-known for (the recipe won them a feature in Bon Appetit®). Everything I tried was very good—attractively plated, well seasoned and downright tasty. The scallops were prepared perfectly, not a hint of sand or rubberiness (my biggest concern about trying scallop dishes) to be found.
My only complaint of the evening was the pushiness of our server. For fine dining, I expect the type of service that's more "waiting in the wings" than "in your face." I felt the server visited our table too often, interrupting conversations repeatedly and pushing more food and drinks on us when clearly no one was interested. I felt the server also pushed us to order larger quantities of food that we needed. For example, when a few people wanted to share an order of the fries with truffle mayonnaise, the server said 1 plate would never be enough. They persisted and when the order came out, it was huge! I would guess there was probably a good 4 cups worth of fries on the plate.
I never condemn a restaurant or a server based on just 1 experience (unless it's a catastrophic experience), so the Blue Heron would definitely be on my list of places to try again. I think it would be well-suited for a special, romantic occasion like our anniversary or Valentine's Day or just a really special date. One caveat is that you have to be ready and willing to spend some coin here. With a couple of rounds of drinks for 8 people and 8 appetizers, the bill came to over $250; and when I glanced at the entree menu, it looked like most options were in the high-teens to low-twenties. Nonetheless, the attention to detail in the atmosphere, plate presentation and food preparation even in just the appetizers makes me think a meal here would truly be special.