Bolt Bistro & Bar really wants you to like it. Located in the downtown Raleigh space formerly occupied by The Mint, Bolt has brought a completely different attitude to the spot. While The Mint reeked of exclusivity in both pricing and attitude, Bolt exudes the eagerness to please of an enthusiastic puppy.
The puppy analogy is apt because Bolt has been open less than a month. The restaurant is still getting its footing in some areas, but it has promise.
The interior has been opened up with an emphasis on the front ceiling-high windows, an especially nice touch during lunch service when people-watching is at its peak. The walls are decorated with a mélange of framed metallic art, mirrors, hunks of wood and a couple of artsy North Carolina State University prints amid a color scheme of reds and wood tones. Two televisions are strategically positioned in the bar.
Even more eclectic is Bolt's menu. Thanks to fewer choices, the lunch menu, which features salads and assorted sandwiches, is more focused than its dinner counterpart. The Bolt salad arrives as a mound of greens crowned with bits of pear and surrounded by a drizzle of berries vinaigrette and tomato slices at 12, 3, 6 and 9 o'clock on the plate. The pears provide a buoyant counterpoint to the greens' earthiness. Don't plan to eat all of it, though—unless you're skipping an entrée—because it is a sizeable serving.
The beef short ribs sandwich and the turkey burger appear to be popular lunch choices based on a survey of neighboring tables during an early afternoon visit. The turkey burger earns its favor. It is served on a whole grain bun with tomato, lettuce and a cranberry compote that adds flavor and moistness.
(An unexpected touch is a lunch club card. Buy a certain number of lunches and get one free. People who work downtown certainly should take advantage of the offer.)
Dinner selections are broader with flatbreads, sliders, "bites," tacos, soups, salads and "big plates." Want a crispy tilapia taco? They've got it. In the mood for pork belly sliders? This is the place. It's also the spot for onion soup, fried oysters, rigatoni Bolognese, seared scallops or a Wolfpack burger, among other dishes.
The lack of a unifying theme may cause you to raise an eyebrow. Don't worry. It will quickly fall back into place after your food arrives. "Bites" are Bolt's version of tapas, or small plates. But the kitchen may be a little unclear on the concept of "small" as the portion sizes are quite generous.
The lobster mac 'n' cheese is a creamy trip to the beach from the first taste. The Meatball is more nuanced than its straightforward name suggests—large round meatballs made with a blend of beef and pork in a pool of guanciale tomato sauce. The spiced meat boasts a heartiness when you dig in, and then you encounter an incredibly light ricotta crème fraîche dolloped atop the meatball. The combination is compelling.
Dessert options are underwhelming, consisting mostly of standards such as crème brûlée and cheesecake. My waiter did recommend the chocolate-chip bread pudding as his favorite, and his suggestion was spot on. Chocolate chips laced the slightly chewy density with just the right amount of sweetness.
Bolt is still working out a few kinks. At lunch, the entrée arrived only two or three minutes after the salad. My server quickly noticed and apologized, explaining that they're still working out ticket times.
There are some stocking issues. At dinner, a neighboring table experienced problems ordering their drinks. One diner tried to order an IPA only to be told that the restaurant had run out (this was around 7 p.m.). One of his companions ordered a different beer only to learn that it too was unavailable and then switched to an IPA. "I thought you were out," said the first diner. "We have one in a bottle and one on draft," said his waitress. "I guess I should have been a good waitress and asked which one you wanted."
Fortunately, every member of the Bolt staff that I encountered offered exceptional service. The wait staff and the hostesses at the door were all welcoming and clearly intent on making a good impression. Even the person filling the water glasses took the time to inquire if everything met expectations and then again to say thank you for coming when the meal was over.
Such an attitude no doubt comes from the top. Co-owner David Sadeghi was making the rounds asking patrons how their food was and welcoming them to the restaurant. He explained that because Bolt is so new, he is soliciting feedback in order to tweak things as needed. (Sadeghi's partner is former NFL linebacker Adalius Thomas, who played for the Baltimore Ravens and New England Patriots.)
Bolt really wants you to like it. My guess is that you will.
This article appeared in print with the headline "Please, please, please."