Cursed . . .

. . . and put a stake in it!

The starters provided a much-needed respite from what was turning into a truly disastrous outing. The crispy polenta with mushroom and bacon ragout was quite savory, as was the beef tartare with capers, red onions and mustard dressing. The three of us nearly got into fisticuffs over the shrimp and sausage cheesecake -- easily the best cheesecake I've enjoyed since purchasing my first book of Vargas pinups. It served as an intriguing reminder that cheesecake is not just for dessert, and can be somewhat like quiche instead.

I was almost ready to sing a hearty three cheers for the chef, but then reality hit harder than a Mars rover landing with our entrees. Mikey chose the double-cut pork chops with pancetta sauce. But we were taken aback when our blond server-siren asked him how he wanted them cooked. I mean, what better way to court trichinosis than by eating undercooked pork? "Very well done," Mikey replied, but when said pork chops came, they were still pink on the inside! Mikey ate them and lived, though the pork chops tasted like they'd been dipped in a barrel of brine: probably the pancetta, though it was akin to French-kissing a salt lick.

Brad's filet mignon with béarnaise was equally salt-laden, but that suited Brad fine, as the boy has an unnatural predilection for sodium chloride. My own choice of duck two ways continued the saline theme. Though the seared duck breast was tender and delicious, the confit leg and thigh seemed too salty, even for confit. I'm not sure what to make of all this, as on my return trip, the items I ate also seemed as if someone went crazy with the salt cellar. By Donald Trump's hairpiece, could the chef be on commission from Morton?

Bad luck beef: Chef Jennifer Lindsey and Dr. Walter Tilford
Jackie Mercandetti
Bad luck beef: Chef Jennifer Lindsey and Dr. Walter Tilford

Details

Shrimp and sausage cheesecake$10

Polenta with mushroom and bacon ragout$8

Filet mignon with béarnaise sauce$26

Duck two ways$24

202 North Central (at the Hotel San Carlos), 602-257-7500. Hours: Lunch, Monday through Friday, 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.; Dinner, Monday through Saturday, 5 to 10 p.m. Closed Sunday.

Dessert was extraordinarily disconcerting. On my first visit, there were none available. Not even a Milky Way bar. On the second, I had two choices: cheesecake or some vanilla or chocolate ice cream. I chose the former, hoping against hope for a big fat piece of New York-style cheesecake. Guess again, polenta breath! What I received was a small, cylindrical, crustless bit of confection topped with one stinkin' blackberry.

My advice to the management of the regal San Carlos is to put a call in to Father Merrin from The Exorcist, slap a copy of "Tubular Bells" on the CD player, and stock up on Holy Water and crucifixes. Because, unfortunately, their curse de cuisine seems more powerful than ever.

E-mail stephen.lemons@newtimes.com

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