The setting has always been perfect--looking south across a park, catching a few rays from the setting sun, with people playing tennis in the distance and the bustle of urban traffic all around. For many years the Loring Bar occupied the site, and somehow succeeded in making faux-bohemian decor seem cool. The removable glass in the windows helped on those breezy summer nights. That the space was taken over by the D'Amico folks seemed like a classic sign of the times--the wealth few horning in on the fun. The new place is a far sleeker and more upscale establishment. Not quite the "let your hair hang out" place it used to be.
Yet the food was alleged to be very good (and a friend had given us a gift card) so we paid the Cafe a visit on a recent Thursday evening.
The space is light and airy, with exposed brick, and white cloth draped over both tables and chairs. During the course of our meal enough linen napkins were put to use to sail the Mayflower. The taped music varied from John Coltrane's Ballads to soft and sultry Brazilian vocalists--Ceu?--in short, it was an altogether pleasant environment: European/American relaxed chic. Our waiter was well-informed yet pleasingly unpretentious. He didn't tell us his name, and it was easy to imagine that he was a bright economics major from Grand Rapids with an interest in food who was working his way through college, rather than a food-snob who had sized you up immediately and determined that you couldn't tell a turnip from a parsnip if your life depended on it.
The wine list is extensive though few come in at under $30. Many of the offerings are available by the glass, however. and you can get a glass of Verdillac white for $7.50 or a "Kermit Lynch Selection" Cote du Rhone for $9, for example, following the "one glass costs one bottle retail" formula. I suspect it would be possible to have a pleasant evening sampling the extensive range of 2-ounce pours, which are in the $3-5 range, along with a few appetizers.
The menu is entirely ala carte. Everything sounds interesting, and everything we ordered was perfectly presented and remarkably tasty. I would not normally have ordered the fois gras with proscuitto on toast (here the gift card comes into play), and perhaps the waiter could read the look on my face when the dish arrived and I was reminded that fois gras is goose liver, not goose liver pate. The dish looked like a half of a pear sitting on a piece of fine bacon and drizzled with some delicate caramel sauce. It tasted like heaven. These are flavors of such succulent richness that they lie in an entirely different domain from the one our taste buds (or our psyches) commonly inhabit. The crisp toast and the salty proscuitto provided a perfect balance to the oily fatty liver, and the flavors lingered in the mouth for what seemed like an eternity. Well, enough about that. (And nary a thought about the poor goose until just now!)
The salad, which our waiter thoughtfully delivered to us on two plates, was light and tasty, and the grilled honeyed almonds that accompanied it, set in tiny beds of dried currants, were scrumptious.
And now, having used up quite a few gushing adjectives already, the rack of lamb arrives, four pairs of little ribs set on the plate tepee-style (that's what they call it at the Cordon Bleu, I believe) served on a whisp of mirepoix with some truffle oil and bordelaise sauce drizzled here and there. It was very fine, as was Hilary's grilled sea bass, a heafty chunk of fish caked in a carmelized miso sauce. We also ordered a gratin of root vegetables, which provided just enough down-home familiarity to keep us from drifting off into the nether-world of etherial food essences.
The bill, with tip, wasn't much more than we spend to heat our house for a month, on the budget plan.