“A lot,” says our server. She’s cute—got a good wiggle. She gets the deviled eggs out in a jiffy. But she won’t hazard a guess as to how many albariños and reislings and gewürztraminers are looming in the darkish center of a very elegant little restaurant tucked away in a business compound. It’s definitely, impressively “a lot—only, those you’re looking at on that side are the reds. The other side is where the reislings are.” Whaddayaknow.
As is the wont of new restaurants that offer inviting casual warmth while doubling as New York-style sophistication—think Smith & Wollensky, maybe—Blackwood is a beautiful fine-line between culinary and sociological desires. They call it “upscale dining without a fuss,” and that’s accurate. Having opened in January of this year, ownership had the good sense to attend both tastes—mirrors, black décor, the vaulted wine cabinet, dark woods, spaciousness for the starched collars; deviled eggs, burgers, smart well drinks, affordable prices for the laid-back. Myself and my friend are more of the latter, but we sometimes take on airs.
Seeing deviled eggs ($5) as an appetizer was like coming across a rare baseball card in mint condition for a third of what the Beckett says. They are described as “classic halves with a twist”—don’t you love the straight-forward nature of the verbiage?—and that twist happens to be bacon bits (ingenious). They are presented single-file, in a row of four, each fancily filled with the craftsmanship of a cake decorator, and on a bed of cabbage. Hands down, these are the best deviled eggs in the entire world. Mustard-based, with a consistency more like mashed potatoes (no sliminess) and a hint of rosemary (my friend thinks), these are the small things in life that people—yogis, gurus, survivors, snake charmers—often talk about.
Wanting to sample more than a single dish, we ordered the oven-fired stuffed flat bread with chicken off the autumn lunch specials menu ($10, everything) and a North Carolina pulled pork sandwich ($11) because tar heels are rarely wrong. There was temptation to try the Maplewood smoked salmon on squaw bread, but just as Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “we gain the strength of the temptation we resist.” We are now stronger than a legion of sockeyes.
The oblong plates were brought out within 15 minutes with plenty of white space, the pulled pork with a small pitcher of barbecue sauce. The presentation is in keeping with the milieu and the basic philosophy here—no aggressive French fries spilling over the plate. The stuffed flat bread was decent, with a drizzle of smoked jalapeño aioli balancing the dryness of the unleavened bread. Green peppers and two unspecified cheeses give it oomph, but we immediately wished we’d went with the Maplewood smoked salmon sandwich.
On the other hand, the pulled pork sandwich was excellent. Much like a French dip in appearance, but actually on a spongy brioche bun, here was a cared-for sandwich that you could actually taste the preparation in—sugar and spice and everything nice, then slow cooked for a dozen hours. My friend and I both made barbaric grunting noises during this portion of the meal, me because it was that good, him because he bit his tongue chewing with dumb abandon.
No room for dessert on this visit, not with the second order of deviled eggs—but there are three soufflés to choose from. More impressive, though, is the bar—a very ritzy looking affair with plenty of romanticism, like the kind an Esquire man my get behind. Ah, another time . . . another time.
Blackwood American Grill, 980 Montecito Dr., Corona, (951) 549-7998, www.blackwoodgrill.com. Lunch for two, approx. $30; Open daily for dinner, Mon.–Fri. for lunch. AE, D, MC, V