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BB King Blues Club & Grill Dining Review

October 28, 2005 - by Richard Jay Scholem
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At the epicenter of the new Disneyfied Times Square area on its most frenetic stretch, 42nd Street between 7th and 8th Avenues, is the flashy B.B.King Blues Club and Grill. This subterranean colossus, one of New York City's newest supper clubs, is becoming an entertainment Mecca for Rock n' Roll, Blues, Jazz, Rhythm and Blues and Pop music performers and their adoring fans. About a thousand of them often jam into it in a single night. Lucille's (named for B.B. Kingís guitar), an adjacent restaurant, accommodates 150 more diners.

Both venues offer menus that tilt toward Southern soul food: barbecue pulled pork sandwiches, Cajun rock shrimp popcorn, blackened catfish, chicken and andouille gumbo and barbecued baby back ribs. Although the kitchen churns out some surprisingly creative specials that are more imaginative than most nightclub fare, few folks come to the club for haute cuisine food, or for that matter, for quiet conversation. Along with its counterparts in Memphis and Los Angeles, B.B. Kings in New York is a scene (and not a serene one). And if its not tete a tete territory, it is an exciting, electric spot filled with head bobbing, toe tapping, aisle jumping aficionados.

The night I was there, Bo Diddley, "The man who put the 'rock' in rock n' roll" brought the standing, screaming, hand-clapping crowd to a frenzy at his finale. B.B. King appears a few times a year, as do performers like James Brown, Sonny Rollins, Roberta Flack, Oleta Adams and the Brothers Johnson. Appreciative New Yorkers and tourists from all over come to take their pictures and sway, bounce and gyrate in their seats to the pulsating sounds, the vibrating beat of hot music. At the tiny, bare tables with their candles and ketchup bottles, the faithful eat everything from club sandwiches to venison in a port wine and red currant sauce accompanied by poached pears. So if you want to eat a two or three-course dinner, not to worry.

Many, perhaps most, of the people around you will be chopping on burgers, macaroni and cheese, fries, onion rings and pecan, apple, key lime and Mississippi mud pies. We started with a shrimp cocktail and were rewarded with five truly jumbo fellows and a zippy sauce laced with fresh horse raddish. One of the unexpected culinary flourishes also came at appetizer time: an entree-size seared tuna fillet wrapped with black peppercorns in four phyllo dough rolls, drizzled with teriyaki sauce atop mesclun greens dressed with lemon vinaigrette.

A very respectable, no-nonsense main course is the juicy, herb-roasted half-chicken with mashed potatoes and gravy. Light eaters can opt for the light, diminutive catfish filet described as ìblackenedî, but not the least bit spicy or threatening. The numero uno entr»e sampled was a slab of moist, grilled Atlantic salmon on a bed of savory, wild rice, alive with sundried tomatoes, mushrooms and artichokes. These straight-ahead victuals can be washed down with anything from unsweetened ice tea to wine to one of five martinis (berry, red apple, peach puree, pear liqueur or chocolate).

237 W. 42nd St. (Seventh-Eighth Aves.), 212-997-4144.

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