It was a terrific sunny Monday, and while enjoying the last little bit of August poolside, some friends and I discussed dinner plans. Collectively, we agreed that The Black Sheep would be our first choice of options.
Luckily, The Black Sheep was open and we were able to reserve a table for the patio. We have awaited its opening since Europa closed. Europa was the first conception of chefs/owners, Ellen & Steve Gedra and a beloved little eating establishment on Elmwood Ave (see more).
The Black Sheep is located in the impressively refurbished Golden Key Tavern on Connecticut St. You enter into a gorgeous bar laden with wood, brass accents and a rustic brick wall. There is plenty of seating for drinking, dining and waiting for a table (as you will likely find yourself doing regularly.) They have a full bar that offers craft cocktails, a poignant beer list and lovely wines. Soak in the atmosphere and hunker down for a great dining experience.
Knowing our summer evenings on a patio are coming to a halt, we opted to sit outside. We walked through the beautiful, well thought out dining room to the patio area. I am so happy to see the size of this space enhanced, to experience more of the Gedra talents. The décor is consistent, simple and classic. It will lend itself to art and time, as it is not overly trendy to lose its luster quickly.
As we sat in the wide open back area, we all soaked it in and wondered what more they may do with the space once they settle in. We noticed a giant wall screaming for a mural or climbing foliage; the sky is the limit with spectacular garden beds and an amazing field, yes, a field next to the building. One of my dinner companions mentioned how impressive it was for them not to turn it into a parking lot. There is a nice, pristine starkness about the patio area along with a feeling it is also a blank canvas for more. From the look of the interior space, I have no doubt it will evolve.
We pondered the wine list, as we were in the mood for a great Provence rosé on a warm summer evening. Unfortunately the only one available was from the Rhone-Languedoc region and not quite what we were looking for. There is something that transports you to the south of France with that lovely peach color and crisp taste of a Provence rosé on a patio in the summer. My dining counterparts did not care for the wine, so they happily switched to one of the terrific beer options. We settled on our drinks and pondered the tempting small plates to share.
The three of us sipped our beverages, ordered four small plates and devoured Ellen’s amazing house made breads, complete with Black Sheep’s version of Chianti butter, which is lardo whipped with salt and herbs. It was divine on the fresh bread (I TRULY hope they open a bakery & market). Our first dish, my favorite of the four was the Fried Maine Belly Clams. The dish came out freshly fried in a perfect folded linen pocket. We passed it around the table and suddenly it became very quiet. All of us savored the taste and plotted how we could get the most from the shared plate. The perfect bite is to get lemon, clams and frittes together in your mouth! The frittes are soaked in salt and vinegar for 24 hours and fried to order with the clams and lemon pieces.
The next two plates came out together and made it fun to share. We got a Charcuterie Plate and a Smoked Fish Plate. One of my dinner companions is predominantly a pescetarian, so we thought it only fair to diversify our choices. However, he had no problem diving into the pork rillettes and house cured speck (knowing the history of the chef, and his sourcing of food). You know it’s good when you capture a non-meat eater. Both plates featured three ample samplings of house cured, marinated or prepared fish and meats. The pork rillettes on Ellen’s rye bread with the course grain mustard and sweet pickle is a feast for your mouth.
The house cured speck and 18-month old aged pork culatello are so deliciously different from each other. The speck is earthy and pungent, while the other is buttery and salty. The ceviche on the Fish Plate bursts with fresh, tangy flavor…as it should. The salmon offered is creamy and almost spreadable on the toasts that accompany them. I loved the smoked fish and pickled vegetables the best. Both plates had balance while offering a great variety of what Black Sheep has to offer.
Our fourth and last plate we tried was the Black Scallop. This dish has fragrant, strong flavors that meld well together. Combing braised fennel with squid ink infused scallops, preserved lemon and celeriac can be a wallop of taste in your mouth. Black Sheep balanced them well and again enticed one to savor and enjoy each bite. We enjoyed this final dish and agreed that it is terrific as a small plate.
My first experience at Black Sheep simply left me craving more. I can’t wait to take my husband there and find any excuse to return with foodie friends. I look forward to sharing more small plates on the patio and also hunkering down for some large plates in the cozy dining room this fall. I am happy to know that some of the fan favorites of Europa will make appearances but welcome the brave new fare that Black Sheep is bringing to Buffalo. The owners have acquired some adjacent buildings and land to expand their vision. It will be terrific to watch it grow with the demand for more of their delectable victuals.
The Black Sheep | 367 Connecticut St | Buffalo, NY 14213 | 716.884.1100
Mon-Thurs 5pm-10pm | Fri-Sat 5pm-11pm | Sun closed