Years ago, I lived on takeout from a cramped Cuban/Chinese restaurant that made spectacular (and cheap) roast chicken and a local sushi joint where I felt like Norm (good God, I'm old!) entering Cheers every time I picked up dinner.
Today I cook more frequently, so I'm not a regular at any carryout spots. But it's nice to know that more varied options are out there. Recently, for instance, I picked up dinner from A Forkable Feast (3363 Madison Road, Oakley, 513-871-8646), a bright and spacious purveyor of "gourmet to go" for foodies on the run.
The layout here looks inviting but can be confusing for first timers. A large menu looms over the counter separating the open kitchen and blazing pizza oven from the sales floor, but you don't queue up, order your food and wait for it to be bagged. Instead, you browse around, assembling your meals from options spread among various display cases. In one, you might find an interesting salad; in another, an appealing dessert. Search around some more, and you'll eventually locate the entrées and side dishes.
The process isn't intuitive but, luckily, the store's enthusiastic co-owner, Stu Schloss, graciously shepherds us around. With his help, we eventually mix and match dishes to create several discrete meals: a sweet and savory Pumpkin Ginger Soup ($3.25) with delicious Red-Wine Braised Short Ribs ($6.95), gooey Mac and Herbed Goat Cheese ($3.95) and Braised Red Cabbage ($2.95); a Poached Pear Salad ($6.95) with juicy Rosemary-Lemon Chicken ($6.95) and crisp Asparagus Spears ($2.95); and moist Herb-Crusted Salmon ($9.95) with Mushroom and Spinach Vegetable Strata ($6.95) and Parmesan Roasted Fennel ($2.95).
Schloss tells us that many of these dishes are cooked in a special convection oven that simultaneously uses steam heat to preserve moisture. They also use special blast chillers and freezers to retain the intensity of flavors and proper texture.
However it's done, the process seems to work because reheated several hours later according to the labeled directions, the food comes across as fresh and well seasoned. The flavor combinations are fairly sophisticated, vegetables crunchy, meat dishes -- especially those short ribs -- meltingly tender and the center of my Flourless Chocolate Cake ($2.25) perfectly molten. Even the salmon seems like it came right from the broiler!
A few dishes are less successful. The chicken is juicy but slightly bland despite its seasonings and creamy lemon-leek sauce. And the Poached Pear Salad is good, but needs more dressing. Still, overall, everything is surprisingly tasty.
Because of the way they're packaged and chilled, you can stock up for several meals on one visit and the dishes will keep for several days in your refrigerator. So instead of settling for the same old carryout, take a chance, make a change and takeaway from A Forkable Feast next time you're in the neighborhood. You'll be glad you did.
Jean-Robert at Pigall's recently received a Mobil Four-Star Award by Mobil Travel Guide, the originators of the star rating system and providers of one of the most comprehensive evaluation system of hotels, restaurants and spas in the world. ... The fourth Newport on the Levee Progressive Dinner Party will take place March 4. Participating venues include Bar Louie, Brio Tuscan Grille, Cafe Istanbul, Claddagh Irish Pub, Jax Grill at GameWorks, Jefferson Hall, Mitchell's Fish Market, Pacific Moon and Reserve Restaurant & Piano Lounge. Appetizers begin at 6 and 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $30/person or $50/couple (includes tax, gratuity and a non-alcoholic drink at each venue). www.newportonthelevee.com.
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