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Bonfyre of Alfredo’s Vanities

January 30, 2010

Restaurateur Alfredo Teuschler has the curious capability to truly make a silk purse from a sow’s ear. On top of that, his most recent silk purse appears to be one of the hottest new restaurants in town.

The wait time at the relatively new Bonfyre Grille, located in the Arbor Gate Center at Todd Drive and the Beltline, was 90 minutes Friday night, an amazing feat for any restaurant given the economy and especially for one with an unpleasant Beltline view. We were there because we had been there before—twice in fact—and had a mystery coupon from one of those earlier visits that we needed to redeem. Perhaps it was the same situation for the plethora of patrons packed cheek-to-jowl in the extensive bar area.

Bonfyre has a smartly dressed, contemporary interior similar to Teuschler’s other restaurants – Eno Vino on the far west side and the late Cloud 9 Grille, formerly located on the far east side. (Teuschler also owned the former Houlihan’s franchise in Madison, now gone, and is still involved with the one in Wisconsin Dells.)

Patient though we may be, 90 minutes was time we didn’t have to spend. The hostess offered to seat us right away at two of the four counter seats facing the kitchen. “It’s interesting. You might like it,” she offered.

Was she kidding? By the end of the evening we knew we’d gotten the best seats in the house.

Bonfyre offers what’s best described as contemporary American fare—a list of familiar cuts and preparations peppered with Asian, Latin and other influences. The off-menu special of the evening was swordfish ($18) grilled and served with fennel, shiitake mushrooms, asparagus and lima beans. A delicious squash soup ($2 extra with dinner) served as an appetizer. We ordered that as well as seared ahi tuna ($18) served with Asian slaw over rice and a squash medley. A wedge salad drizzled with Bleu cheese dressing (also $2) rode alongside.

But dinner started with an appetizer of Maytag blue cheese potato chips ($7) that, in the end, were free. Our mystery coupon, to be opened only by the waitress at table, was responsible for the prize. We’d hoped for “free Bonfyre for a year,” apparently the grand prize, but were pleased with what we got.

The swordfish proved to be delectable and firm, nicely complemented by its accoutrements. The ahi, touted to be sashimi-grade, was a little less satisfying, but the very flavorful Asian slaw made up for any minor disappointment.

The best part of the evening? Watching Gregorio wield his flatbreads in and out of twin 500+ degree ovens at lightening speed. The size of the crowd put the Gregorio and his fellow cooks through some rapid steps, but they never seemed to falter.

Next time we visit—and we will—we will request these same seats. As far as dining-out activities go, this clearly is one of the best shows in town.

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