If you haven’t seen the old liquor store next to Cozumel Grill in the last year, brace yourself for a shock. It’s been transformed into a sleek space with big windows that look out onto Elmwood Avenue, with clean lines and stylish light fixtures – crystal chandeliers, even. ¶ Savoy aims for classy, starting with the name. Developer and first-time restaurateur Noel Sutton borrowed from the legendary London hotel restaurant, the Savoy. There’s a slate of craft-ish $10 cocktails, including familiar names like the Lemon Drop and Sazerac, and newer classics, such as the Harrington (vodka, Cointreau orange liqueur, Chartreuse and caramelized orange oil). ¶ The drinks we tried on a recent visit were tasty, potent conversation starters. That’s a strength here, even if one conversation was “What’s the proper role of commercial fruit-flavored vodkas in craft cocktails?”
The food is where the famous name starts to lose traction, and even become incongruous. The Savoy was where Auguste Escoffier, the celebrity chef and ur-foodie, cooked his way to stardom in the 1890s.
Buffalo’s Savoy is, according to its website, “Home of the deviled egg.”
Its name aside, Savoy’s menu is going to disappoint some first-time customers who don’t do their research: There are no entrees here. The rangeless, fryerless basement kitchen does turn out salads, hearty baguettes on decent bread, and plates of crostini, cheese and charcuterie. A soup or two, and that’s about it.
Which will be plenty to eat for lots of nibble-and-sip types. They’re looking for light plates with their drinks, and it doesn’t have to be Escoffier. (Jellied chicken breast is overrated anyway.)
The tuna nicoise salad ($14) featured well-executed sesame crusted tuna, nutty outside and rare inside, over field mix and a layer of snow peas, with lots of hoopla: grape tomatoes, hardboiled egg, kalamata olives and cashews in sesame-soy vinaigrette. It was fresh, delicious and offered engaging layers of crunch.
The roasted beet salad ($10) sported little cubes of sweet, earthy beets over a forest of baby arugula. Salty dabs of goat cheese and crunchy candied walnuts added moments of interest, but I thought the beets were under-represented. It was a well-tossed salad, however, with excellent dispersal of premium ingredients throughout the foliage.
The brie en croute pear salad ($12) offered oozy cheese inside browned puff pastry atop more field mix, livened with cheerfully zippy spiced pecans and bacon in a maple vinaigrette. It was the most praised plate of the night.
The panzanella ($10) was unlike the tomato-and-bread-centric versions I’ve enjoyed elsewhere. It was more arugula, augmented with caramelized mushrooms, red onions, shaved manchego cheese and 2-inch croutons that were so crunchy I didn’t want a second. No tomatoes.
We tried the soup of the day ($6), a creamy puree of asparagus, and more arugula. Now, it’s partly our fault for ordering all those salads, but I felt obliged to go on an arugula fast after we left.
The basil-garlic deviled egg du jour ($5 for four) was a home-style snack that left a garlicky bite. I do love a good deviled egg, but not a place that takes a half hour to make them appear. With few other tables occupied in the 36-seat room, we were left to sip cocktails for about 45 minutes without a nibble. With a menu that simple, it felt slow.
The baguette sandwiches arrived about a hour and a half after we did. They were well-received. The steak in the special ($14) was rare as ordered, bolstered with apples, caramelized onions and brie. Our vegetarian guest enjoyed her portobello number ($10), centered on hearty rosemary-scented mushrooms and husky with piquillo peppers and goat cheese.
Cat’s prosciutto baguette ($12) was sweet with fig jam and funky with gorgonzola, and she was happy. My meatloaf version ($12) was jazzed up with a tomato spread, with a homey slab of ground beef on more caramelized onions.
Dessert was a chocolate cupcake topped with raspberry white chocolate ice cream ($7), satisfying most of the table with rich brownielike cake and sweet cream. I said I thought it was grainy, and was met with eye-rolling from my companions.
If you’re looking for a stylish space with cocktails and a bite to eat, Savoy’s menu can probably meet your needs, if you have the time.
Savoy: Rating 6 plates
Stylish new Elmwood nightspot offers cocktails, salads, sandwiches and lighter plates.
WHERE: 149 Elmwood Ave. (768-3100, savoybuffalo.com)
HOURS: 5 p.m. to midnight Wednesday, Thursday and Sunday; 5 p.m. to 4 a.m. Friday and Saturday.
PRICE RANGE: Salads, $10-$14, sandwiches, $10-$12, small plates and platters, $5-$17.
WHEELCHAIR ACCESS: Yes.