Have you ever looked back at albums or movies you once loved and wondered what you were thinking? Occasionally, Alli and I feel that way about restaurants that we’ve eaten at over the years. If you look at our Food Porn post from our December 2009 visit to Left Bank, you’ll see how excited we were to visit the highly regarded restaurant. We started Buffalo Eats only seven months prior and had been living in the city for just two months at that point, so we were pretty big n00bs you could say.
Like I said in the 2009 article, a lot of people told us that Left Bank was one of the best restaurants in the city. Still to this day, their ranking on Urbanspoon is always in the top three for Buffalo and they are incredibly popular with suburbanites. When I made reservations for a Friday night, the earliest they could fit us in was at 9:45pm (and we made the reservations a week in advance).
Over the years, we’ve started to hear a different tone about Left Bank and looking at the their menu now isn’t as appetizing as it once was four years ago. Alli and I know what we like, and normally prefer a restaurant that is doing something different and exciting or focusing on seasonal and quality ingredients. Aside from their specials, Left Bank’s menu is nearly identical year after year. A lot of diners probably love that aspect of Left Bank. It’s “safe” and relatively consistent. Every person that has told us about Left Bank has recommended one particular dish that they order every time they visit.
Full disclosure, we revisited Left Bank because we won a $75 gift certificate at a charity event and figured it was time to re-review it. Overall, we did not like it. To top it off, after dining, we found out that our gift certificate wasn’t valid on weekends (incredibly annoying and odd). So, in order to use the gift certificate, we went back for a second meal shortly after on a weeknight. Spoiler alert, it still wasn’t good.
*We apologize in advance for the picture quality, the lighting in Left Bank is very very dim. We tried our best.
- Restaurant Type: Semi-Fine Dining
- Cuisine: Italian
- Location: West Side
- Prices: Entrees $18-34, Apps/Salad $5-14
The restaurant still looks great inside and our service was very nice on both visits. Left Bank is quite a success story and opened in the mid 90’s in the West Side of Buffalo. While I might not recommend the restaurant to others or go back anytime soon, seeing a locally owned restaurant bring people into the city for so many years (and the west side in particular) is a good thing. Their bar is also nice, with a solid list of beer and relatively good cocktails.
Before our first visit we did some research, looked over their menu and picked out a couple things we thought might be interesting. We showed up for our 9:45 pm reservation and had to wait a couple minutes, which was made easier by grabbing a drink at the bar. Our meal started with Fondue for ‘Two’ ($14), Gorgonzola cheese fondue with small pieces of beef, portabello fries, asparagus and focaccia points. Over our two visits, this was probably our favorite dish. The fries were well cooked, asparagus was fresh, the beef was tender and medium rare and the cheese was thick and had a nice kick. It was simple but we liked the dish just as much as we did in 2009.
The rest of the meal wasn’t such a hit, To start, my Salad of Mesclun Greens ($9) with beets and goat cheese wontons was a disappointment. The beets were rock hard and flavorless and the drizzle of a balsamic reduction didn’t really help. The goat cheese wontons were good but it seems pretty hard to mess up a fried pouch of cheese. Alli’s Chopped Salad with Cucumber, Tomato and Onion ($8) was lacking any freshness. We both opted for pastas as our main entrees and had mixed thoughts. I ordered the Linguine Chicken ($18) which had chorizo, large pieces of chicken, mushrooms, olive oil and fresh basil. The dish had a lot going on, which unfortunately lead to it being oily and greasy. The chorizo pieces added a lot of saltiness instead of any actual flavor. Alli’s Penne all’arrabbiatta ($14) was much better. I enjoyed the sweeter sauce but more prosciutto in the dish would have been nice. The servings for both pastas were very large and we ended up taking a majority home. Like I said above, since they didn’t accept our gift certificate on Friday night we back the following week.
On our second visit we ordered a bunch of appetizers and small plates to start. We started the meal with their Daily Bruschetta. That night’s offering had grilled chicken with lime-chili cream cheese, tomatoes and melted mozzarella. When the dish came out it looked more like garlic bread with cheese rather than bruschetta. The cheese was melted over thick pieces of chicken and they were very messy to eat. The flavor was OK, but we barely could taste any of the lime-chili cream cheese because of the large amount of melted cheese. One of the things we always heard about Left Bank was how “creative” their daily specials were. This bruschetta mess was not creative in any way. We also ordered a Potato Leek Soup ($7), which was also a special. It was thick and had a nice creamy texture but that’s where the compliments end. There was absolutely no leek flavor and overall it was pretty bland.
Alli essentially said “f*** it” that night and ordered herself the NY Strip Steak ($30) which was topped with lobster, cheese and spinach and was the worst thing we ordered in our two trips. Alli ordered the steak medium rare and was served a steak so thin that it would have been impossible to cook anything besides well done. The melted cheese and lobster on top did not work at all. The cheese and lobster had cooled down and hardened and the flavor combination was terrible. She barely ate a quarter of the steak and then gave up. We almost sent it back to the kitchen, which is something we never do. I decided against ordering one large entree and split the Asparagus with Prosciutto Salad ($9) and the Rice and Beans with Chorizo ($14). The salad was good, the asparagus had been cooked just right and the prosciutto was cut to the right thickness, but the accompanying salad had large pieces of unripe avocados that had virtually no flavor and were incredibly hard to cut through. The rice and beans were luckily a pleasant surprise. The Louisiana classic dish didn’t have a lot of rice but made up for it with flavorful red beans, vegetables and spices. It was one of the few things I can say I would definitely order again (if I ever was forced against my will to go back, that is).
Overall, we were not happy. Left Bank is not cheap, both of our meals cost over $100 for only two people. Now, obviously we don’t mind spending that kind of money, if the meal is great. When the meal is lackluster at best, we get mad. I understand that maybe 20 years ago Left Bank was one of the few places in the city that was producing interesting food, but now there are plenty of great restaurants less than a mile away who are pumping out creative quality dishes that are ten times better. I know that sentiment probably puts us in the minority. We try our best to dine with an open mind and try to see the good in every meal, but some restaurants make that harder than others. If it wasn’t for this gift certificate, we wouldn’t have revisited Left Bank. But we took this opportunity to see how our tastes have changed over the last four plus years and see what all the hype was about. We even went back for a follow-up visit, something we rarely are able to do, and our second meal was arguably worst than our first.
If Left Bank is your favorite restaurant, I don’t mean to offend you with this review. I am sure plenty of people can go to eat at Left Bank and have a nice time with their significant other or a group of friends. But, honestly, the restaurant isn’t doing anything truly unique anymore in WNY’s restaurant scene. Their menu is dated with dishes that don’t really appeal to Alli and myself and their ingredients don’t seem to be top notch. If you are obsessed with their one particular pasta or entree, I’m not going to stop you from going back. It’s not pushing any boundaries, but it’s still a better option then most crappy national chains. However, if you are coming into the city and looking for really great food or something different and unique, hit me up and I’ll send you on the right path.