Cafe Reviews

Blast From Repast

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Not least on the seafood roster are the crab cakes. Available as an appetizer or an entree, they come on a plate spruced up with flakes of fried spinach, topped with a small dollop of a creamy sauce that's somewhere between tartar and cocktail.

The generous crab cakes are peppered, literally, with bits of crunchy green and yellow bell pepper. Sweet crab flavor comes out on top, with just enough seasoning to enhance the overall effect.

If you order a seafood entree, consider a beef appetizer. "Durant's Debris" gets you two skewers of meat. I'm talking about nice, lean bits of steak separated and seasoned by pieces of scallion. A pleasant garlic aioli comes for dipping. The Debris is cooked to order, and is large enough to be an entree for those with small appetites.

The Debris is proof that the kitchen can cook meat to order. On separate visits, the filet mignon and double cut lamb chops I ordered medium came medium rare. Although not cooked to the temperature I ordered, each was a beautiful, tasty cut of meat. They were thick and tender, and had been trimmed of all excess fat.

I understand a restaurant's hesitation to overcook expensive cuts of meat. Undercooked meat can always be sent back and cooked a little more. In light of Durant's reputation for good steak and chops, though, customers shouldn't have to send meat back.

Lamb chops are $29.50. At that price, perfection is the only option.

One dish the kitchen always cooks to perfection is sautéed chicken livers. Lightly breaded and fried to a deep tasty brown, they have a surprisingly pleasant smoky flavor. The chicken livers come as an appetizer or entree. If you've never tried chicken livers, Durant's is the place to expand this vista on your culinary horizon.

Durant's is definitely a place for liver lovers. Sautéed calf's liver with bacon and onions has been a menu staple for years. The calf's liver isn't as good as the chickens' because the flour coating can be a bit starchy. This problem might be avoided if the kitchen would shake off the excess flour before sautéing.

Side dishes and salads are among the improved menu offerings. Dinner still comes with soup or salad and choice of potato.

For years, the house salad was nothing but iceberg lettuce topped with a cherry tomato. The new and much improved side salad is a decent portion of mixed fresh greens with a few tomato wedges. The house dressing is still tomato vinaigrette (a.k.a. "French" a.k.a. "Catalina"). It's time for something new -- and better.

Soups are more hit and miss than the salads. The clam and shrimp chowder is excellent. Big bits of clam and lots of shrimp take up a good deal of space in the bowl. Luckily, there's room for the perfectly textured, sherry-laced cream soup that makes the chowder a winner. The onion and cheese soup isn't as good. It's like onion soup with Velveeta cheese mixed in.

Another improvement is the wine list, although in perusing it I considered the prices a bit steep. But at least there's something worth drinking besides martinis.

The updated lunch menu has been pleasantly expanded. Now you can opt for several main course salads in addition to an ample selection of tasty, well-made burgers and sandwiches.

Desserts have never been Durant's strong point. In the old days, lunchtime dessert was a little tub of vanilla ice cream that came with a flat wooden tongue-depressor-like spoon. At night dessert was something you ordered at another restaurant.

Now you can have Ben & Jerry's ice cream, but for $4.95 I expect a server to deliver more than ice cream.

I also expect a house specialty dessert to deliver. Durant's is the "Trey" of crème brûlée. For $8.95 you get three miniature ramekins, one of which is filled with a creamy-textured, rich vanilla-flavored crème brûlée. The other two aren't worthy of superlatives. The chocolate had a skin on the top and tasted like pudding that comes in a cup. The raspberry was overcooked; the custard looked and tasted more like scrambled eggs.

Why order the "Trey" when you can order a pretty good Key lime pie? You might also consider the better-than-average chocolate fudge brownie pie topped with a very large scoop of vanilla ice cream. If the brownie had been warm, this dessert would have gone from good to memorable.

The saying "you can't go home again" isn't true. Even though it's a bit expensive, a trip to Durant's is like a trip back home. If nostalgia isn't for you, the food tastes pretty good even when it's not seasoned with sentiment.

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Andy Broder