Some musicologists say the classical form reached its apogee during the reign of Joseph II. Some literary critics argue that the tragic dramas of Periclean Athens have never been surpassed.

The folks behind this nine-month-old establishment evidently believe the heights of gastronomy were reached during the Eisenhower administration. Even the name plays off the late-Fifties Johnny Mathis hit.

And judging from the large, older crowd here on a hot summer weeknight, those culinary sentiments still seem to have resonance. Come here if you want to give your taste buds a safe tour of Fifties fare. Because, unlike Miro's, Chances Are takes absolutely no chances.

A converted bank, Chances Are still has the brick solidity of its former life. The decorator seems to be a partisan of the covered-wagon school of art--oil paintings of cowboys, Indians and purple mountains' majesty above the fruited plain.

In the lounge, the musician pounded out "The Shadow of Your Smile" and "Misty" as couples swooped around the dance floor. An odd segue into Van Morrison's "Brown-Eyed Girl" sent everyone scurrying back to the tables.

Conforming to the Fifties mentality, those of us dining in the nonsmoking section were tucked away in a corner, away from the lounge action. This is a place that cries out to start the meal with a smoke and a cocktail.

We did--with a shrimp cocktail. It looked just like the one I always begged my parents to get me whenever we ate out: four decent-size shrimp in a tub of red cocktail sauce. Somehow, it tasted better in 1957, maybe because this time I was shelling out $5.75.

But I had no problem springing for the house version of oysters Rockefeller, a half-dozen tender oysters surrounded by lots of spinach slathered with baked cheese. Sure, it's a venerable starter, but it still holds up.

Chances Are offers an impressive list of entrees, more than 30 choices. It's the kind of high-sounding fare that Ozzie and Harriet would have gone out for on a special occasion, without the little Nelsons. As you might expect, dishes arrive covered by metal domes, dramatically whisked off tableside.

Veal Oscar, a traditional staple of ancient, fine dining menus, features veal nestled with Alaskan King crab and asparagus, topped with b‚arnaise sauce. Food trendies, of course, would naturally turn up their noses at such a stodgy dish. But eating isn't like ice skating--originality and artistic creativity aren't the primary considerations.

But unfortunately, the veal Oscar also lacked technical merit. The veal was too tough, the crab microscopic and the b‚arnaise sauce dull.

Beef Wellington is another main dish that has been around so long that it could have been part of this menu even if Chances Are featured the fare of the 1850s.

The kitchen employs a first-rate hunk of filet, lusciously tender and cooked to medium-rare specifications. It's surrounded by pƒt‚ and enclosed in pastry dough. At least, that's my best guess, because the chef simply drowned it in Bordelaise sauce, creating a soggy bog. Once I pumped out the sauce, though, the superior qualities shone through. And after all, how many places in this town still serve Beef Wellington, and at $14.95?

Chicken cordon bleu, surf and turf, trout amandine, stuffed pork chops, prime rib, Polynesian chicken--reading this menu puts you in quite a time warp. For some inexplicable reason, I started mulling about the breakup of Eddie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds.

Shrimp scampi hoisted us back to the present. This was clearly the Midwestern version. Four measly shrimp with barely a hint of garlic or wine faced off against a scoop of cafeteria-style rice. The Fifties, evidently, suffered from more than cultural blandness.

Chances Are is a jaunt down memory lane, aimed at folks who remember Dobie Gillis before Nick at Night, James Dean movies before video and John Foster Dulles before History 101. As Yogi Berra said, it's d‚j… vu all over again.

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