Butter returns to enhance Maple Leaf Farms breast of duck with light-as-air herbed potato gnocchi, Brussels sprouts and foie gras sauce ($23.95). I suspect even non-duck eaters would enjoy this dish, pleasant with its crispy-skinned, well-marbled poultry. The gnocchi are also available as an entree ($18.50) and deserve their starring role.
While most would not count ostrich as a traditional comfort food, Lon's special ($24.95) uncovers some quite attractive pan loin. Prepared in its preferred medium-rare, ostrich reflects the taste of a very mild filet mignon -- good, but not gutsy. For my money, stick with the beef.
When it comes to Poblete's more creative offerings, strap on your seat belt for a rougher ride. Strong flavors are unleashed with wild abandon; they crash rudely in the mouth. A thick Gorgonzola cream sauce, for example, puts penne pasta in a headlock with its bitterness, completely obscuring the shyer nature of portobello mushroom and wood-grilled chicken ($18.95).
Fusilli with rock shrimp, fish of the day, green lip mussels and roasted pepper coulis ($18.95) stomps on the taste buds with strong-tasting seafood, but we forgive the dish for the good nature of its sauce. How could we cavil anyway, given the kindness of the kitchen? We asked to split this entree as an appetizer and were presented with two virtually full-size portions.
The kindness of the waiters saves us again when I order the truly awful house smoked pork chop ($25.95). This dish is not simply a misstep; it's a catapult to the death. I understand that mesquite is one of our most strongly flavored woods, but this poor chop has been so grossly over-smoked that it's inedible. The first bite sends a charcoal briquette to the back of my throat. And while the acrid fumes decrease the farther into the two-inch chop I dig, my senses are too bludgeoned to take more than a few bites. Adding insult is the smoky prosciutto-infused risotto underneath. Fuchsia-tone braised apples and red cabbage are more like pickles and offer no relief.
But our waiter is professional and sincere, offering me another entree when he sees my distress. I decline, and I can see this bothers him; can't he offer us drinks, dessert, anything? He promises to tell the chef to test the smoke levels, and I have no doubt he does so immediately.
I console myself with the pastry chef's sampler ($14.95 for two). What a treat, to indulge in small portions of lemon crème brûlée in a crispy ravioli pocket; chocolate mousse studded with toffee, mocha and meringue; plum, raspberry and macadamia nut upside-down cake; warm French apple galette with cinnamon stick ice cream; vanilla bean ice cream in espresso sauce; and strawberries dipped in white and dark chocolate tuxedos. It's a huge plate smattered with luscious diced fruit, drizzled with chocolate sauce and dressed with mint leaves and cookie curls. Capped with steaming cups of rich, black coffee, we find the selection ample for one evening's party of five.
It's the perfect ending to an all-American experience: indulgent food and lots of it. Julia would be so proud.