Last fall, when I heard that a restaurant called Bolt was opening on Fayetteville Street and that one of the owners was former NFL linebacker Adalius Thomas, I figured the name was a reference to the two-time Pro Bowler’s skills.
Quick as a lightning bolt, say. Or maybe: Hits you like a bolt out of the blue.
I couldn’t have been further off the mark. According to Thomas’ partner, David Sadeghi, such flashy connotations are the opposite of what the restaurant’s name is intended to convey.
“We wanted a name that was approachable, casual, basic,” says Sadeghi, a veteran restaurateur who also owns Town Hall Grill in Chapel Hill. “Something solid and dependable, like nuts and bolts.”
Something, in other words, that would serve notice of a clean break from the previous tenant in this high profile location: The Mint, whose very name reeked of excess.
To that end, the partners gave the two-story space a complete makeover, taking the ambience down a few notches on the formality scale. When they were done, the banker-posh (and to some, uninviting) shades of copper, silver and green had been replaced by a warmer come-as-you-are vibe in earth tones with red and black accents.
Gone are the tablecloths and sumptuous silks, replaced by salvaged-wood tabletops and sculptures fashioned from nuts, bolts and wrenches. An inviting street-level bar now stands where a dramatic stairwell formerly led to a sleek upstairs lounge. Massive beams suspended from ropes visually lower the high ceiling, giving the dining room a more intimate feel.
The kitchen likewise takes its cue from the restaurant’s name, though chef Robert Sumber isn’t immune to the occasional flourish of, say, a few drops of truffle oil in his deviled eggs.
For the most part, though, the seasonally evolving menu is true to its mission, offering a survey of contemporary American comfort food, from blackened tilapia tacos to lobster mac-and-cheese. By and large, the kitchen delivers the goods.
Crab cakes are mostly jumbo lump crabmeat, punctuated with fine diced red peppers and seared to a lacy brown turn. Served as a starter with a small citrus-dressed salad (recently a kaleidoscope of charred corn, avocado, diced tomato and arugula), they’re a keeper.
So are fried oysters, plump and moist beneath a crackly crust. And a first-rate rendition of the steakhouse classic iceberg wedge with house-made buttermilk blue cheese dressing and crunchy crumbles of Nueske’s bacon.
What better way to follow the wedge than with a New York strip steak or rib-eye, expertly grilled to order? Or a filet, with a gob of truffle butter melting down its sides and a Lyonnaise twist on a baked potato at its side?
Pan-seared scallops, served on a dune of cauliflower puree scattered with a colorful flotsam of seasonal “wok vegetables,” come close to the mark. Execution is solid across the board, except for the garnish of “crispy” basil leaves, which are anything but. And, big as the scallops are, it’s a bit disappointing to get just three of them in a $24 entree.
The stuffed local free-range chicken breast, on the other hand, won’t leave you feeling short-changed. Moist and mahogany-skinned, the airline breast is generously stuffed with a wild mushroom and truffle duxelles (there’s that truffle penchant again), served over a hash of fingerling potatoes and pancetta, and glazed with a rich brown reduction.
Like the savory fare, Bolt’s dessert offering aims to be as solidly familiar as the restaurant’s name. It delivers in the form of classics, ranging from creme brulee to peach crisp, that are consistently satisfying if not particularly memorable.
The wait staff are friendly and accommodating under the direction of David Sadeghi, though occasional lapses make it clear that some are more experienced than others. Fortunately, Sadeghi is a consummate host and is usually on the floor to keep things running smoothly.
Adding considerably to Bolt’s appeal, at least through the end of August, is a summer special featuring three courses for $29. That’s the regular price of the filet alone, which happens to be one of five entree options on the prix fixe list. Portions are full size, so even if you opt for the shrimp-and-grits (another winning option, normally $16), odds are you’ll leave with a satisfied smile on your face.
And the smile will turn to a grin when you realize you didn’t have to spend a mint.
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