"It's something different you might want to try," was my reply through clenched teeth, knowing the only way he would try arugula was if it was accidentally covered by a slice of pizza. Because many of the menu items were a little unusual and unfamiliar, my husband was wary of trying this newcomer in the former Darci's location.
Indeed, this place is something different. In addition to the unusual menu items, the restaurant's extensive wine selection differentiates it from other Hyde Park Square eateries. Guests are first greeted by a custom-built wine display with hundreds of selections, ranging from the very expensive to moderately cheap, most of which are also sold by the bottle for take-out.
White cloth-covered tables were tightly packed in the main dining room, which was full on this Tuesday evening. Because of the noise level inside the restaurant, we opted for seating on the streetside patio, which seemed much more comfortable and casual to us on this particular evening.
We started our meal with a bottle of inexpensive Chardonnay (even with the $10 "corking" fee added to the retail price listed inside the restaurant, the price was reasonable) and a couple of appetizers. The Crabmeat Artichoke Dip ($9) was the richest and most decadent of any I've ever tried, and well worth the calories. Considering this was the closest I would get to seafood this week -- having been chased away from my South Carolina vacation by Hurricane Floyd -- I was very satisfied. Additionally, our guests enjoyed the Roasted Portobella Bruschetta ($8). The sliced portobellas, roma tomatoes, basil and Parmesan cheese all were fresh and flavorful atop garlic toasts.
Reflecting its Mediterranean flavor, the restaurant's starters also include a homemade hummus sampler (Mediterranean Trio, $8) accompanied by tabbouleh and roasted vegetables, as well as Spanakopita ($7), a blend of spinach and feta, wrapped in phyllo dough and served over wild greens, cucumbers, olives and red onions.
Selecting an entrée was a little less simple. The menu features a handful of salads (intended as main courses), sandwiches and a few entrées. However, the ingredients in each make them far from your ordinary neighborhood restaurant selection. For example, the Bibb Lettuce Salad ($5), which seemed to be the most basic of the salads, consists of caramelized pears, bleu cheese, spiced pecans, watercress and spiced rice vinegar. The St. Helena salad ($8), another unusual choice, featured Bibb lettuce, watercress, grilled eggplant, asparagus, yellow tomatoes, shaved parmesan and spice rice vinegar. You won't find any iceberg lettuce and Ranch dressing on this menu.
Stuffed on crabmeat dip, we passed on salads and went right for our main course. One of our guests chose that evening's special: a baked salmon filet topped with a light sauce ($16) which he stated was "non-descriptive." Although he found nothing wrong with his meal, he said it wasn't something he would recommend. His guest, however, enjoyed her Roasted Vegetable Focaccia with Goat Cheese sandwich ($8). This one featured watercress and roasted veggies on a toasted focaccia and served with cucumber salsa and what at first appeared to be dried banana chips. However, our server later informed us we were sorely mistaken: These were plantain chips. You should have seen my husband's eyes roll.
My husband was disappointed with his dinner (surprise!): Elliot's Original Crab Cakes ($12), which were served over yaki soba noodles (or "Ramen" noodles, as my husband described them) and minus the Thai Chili vinaigrette (mistakenly), making them very dry and not too tasty. I went off the board and ordered again from the appetizer selections, choosing the Vineyard Quesadilla ($8) which was unlike any I've had before. The dish was stuffed with chicken, brie cheese and caramelized onions, giving it a spicy/sweet flavor which I enjoyed. It was also served with fresh guacamole and a lemon cream sauce, adding to the unusual mix of flavors.
Other selections ranged from the everyday (Classic Roast Beef sandwich; $8) to the unusual (Smoked Salmon Pizza; $12, topped with lemon cream sauce and capers.)
Although we were mixed in our reviews to this point, there was no disagreement on the desserts: to die for. The Chocolate Mousse Cake ($6) was a dense, thick, rich cake, which caused a bit of a fight amongst us. The Raspberry Caramel Crème Brulée ($6), although delicious, caused only a minor tiff.
As we strolled down the square after our meal, we failed to reach consensus on our overall impression. Discussing how we would portray this new eatery, I was not surprised to hear my husband repeat my words from earlier in the evening: "It's something different you might want to try." ©
Go: 2653 Erie Ave. Hyde Park Square
Hours: 11 a.m.10 p.m. Monday-Wednesday; 11 a.m.11 p.m. Thursday; 11 a.m.midnight Friday-Saturday; noon9 p.m. Sunday
Prices: Moderate to expensive.
Payment: Major credit cards accepted.
Vegetarian Friendliness: A few salads, roasted vegetable sandwich, portobella wrap.
Other Information: Carry-out available sporadically (when not too busy).