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A visit to Black N Bleu located in Hampden Township may require careful planning if you’re intent upon visiting the restaurant toward the end of the work week.

I’ve been frustrated more than once when, on a whim, I decided to drop in without reservations, only to discover a long line and a crowded and cramped waiting area.

I was determined to avoid that scenario on my most recent visit, so I picked up the phone Monday and made reservations for a Thursday night visit. Still, I couldn’t help but be surprised when we arrived at 6 p.m. and the parking lot in the small strip mall was near capacity. Once inside, I figured out why—there was but one booth available. After eight years in the business, Back N Bleu still seems to be going strong.

After checking in at the front desk, a smiling staffer led us past the curved front bar and seating area to an even larger space separated into two additional seating areas, one with a view of an open kitchen located beyond a rustic stone wall.

As we slid into our roomy booth, we took the opportunity to admire contemporary and colorful artwork that adorned the walls. Pictures ranged from Warhol reproductions, to the whimsical world of Michael Godard where animated olives come alive.

Speaking of olives, now might be a good time to mention that not only did Black N Bleu win “Reader’s Choice” for the best martini in Harrisburg Magazine’s “Simply the Best” awards last year, but it was also recognized as “Best Overall Dining” on the West Shore.

The menu selection offers a large selection of sandwiches, pasta, soups, steaks, ribs, seafood, pizza and salads. Wines are offered by the glass, along with a selection of craft beers and tempting cocktails like Moscow Mules, Mango Mojitos and mimosas.

Being in the mood for pasta, but not wanting to overindulge, I was happy to learn that the restaurant provides both large and small ordering options. I selected the “small” portion of the crab ravioli tossed in a lobster cream sauce with tomatoes and spinach ($14). The waitress offered a choice of salad or soup, and I ordered a salad ($6) only to find out later that it was ala carte, which wasn’t quite clear at the time.

My dinner companion decided to indulge his hearty appetite with the popular prime rib ($24).

Despite having a lot on their plate, so to speak, the seasoned employees did a superb job, from the kitchen to the waitstaff, which ran like a well-oiled machine, and in short order we were enjoying our meals.

My fresh salad, comprised of crisp romaine, black beans, croutons, tomatoes, onion and shredded mozzarella, was served with a side of delicious honey mustard dressing.

As for the crab ravioli, the “small” portion was larger than expected, although I’m not one to complain about that. After the first bite, however, I knew I’d be hard pressed to make much headway due to how rich and heavy the dish was. Bits of lobster that floated in a thick cream sauce had scant flavor and did little to enhance the seafood stuffed pasta, so I found myself wishing I’d ordered something on the lighter side.

My companion, however, was quite happy with his generous portion of medium-rare prime rib served with a dollop of horseradish sauce. The bright, freshly grilled asparagus was also a hit, as was the oversized baked potato. He claimed that every bite was perfectly seasoned and generously infused with a significant amount of butter. I would have been ready to go in for a bite, were it not for my over-the-top cream sauce.

Attracting a consistent crowd year after year is no small feat in the restaurant business, yet Black N Bleu manages to do so effortlessly. For good service and generous portions, I can recommend paying them a visit. The well-trained staff has clearly risen to the challenge of being one of the most popular kids on the block.

Up Next: Lunch at the Grotto Pub in Enola.