Diner: Presto! Change-o!

Jake's in Fairfield has become Abracadabra Cafe, with tableside magic and an adult menu

In a world of chain restaurants and food courts, sometimes a night out for dinner seems to be anything but relaxing or entertaining. Fairfield's Abracadabra Café combines fine dining, attentive service and magical tableside entertainment to create a memorable dining experience.

We visited the new establishment one recent weekday evening to see for ourselves what both the chef and the magicians were cooking up at the home of the former Jake's.

Although we had called ahead for reservations, our hostess needed no notice to find us a table in the front dining room, as the restaurant was fairly empty on this particular evening. She strategically walked us past the display case before seating us, pointing out the homemade seven-layer carrot cake, chocolate torte and homemade cheesecakes. Forget the magicians. It will take a miracle to undo the caloric damage these desserts can cause. I made mental note to save room.

Our friendly and charming server recommended we start our evening with one of several appetizers. We selected the Chinese Firecrackers ($5.50), skinny versions of pork and vegetable egg rolls, topped with a drizzle of sweet, hot mustard plum sauce.

These were tasty ­ and plentiful ­ more than enough for the two of us. The hot mustard sauce was a nice compliment to the crunchy fried rolls, presented beautifully over a bed of crisp rice noodles.

At the suggestion of our server, I also ordered a bowl of the Southwestern Cheesy Chicken Soup ($3.50). He described it perfectly as a chicken tortilla soup, filled with corn, cheese and chicken. The broth, although definitely cheesy and somewhat creamy, was very flavorful, not too thick or heavy. I would have easily finished the entire bowl had I not been trying to save room for one of those amazing-looking desserts. We also discovered that dredging the homemade bread and Portuguese dinner rolls in the homemade vinaigrette dressing from our house salads was equally delicious.

Once our salad dishes were cleared, our personal magician entertained us for almost 10 minutes while our entrées were being prepared. Being the sole audience for a magician felt a little awkward at first, but his familiar demeanor and quick wit put us at ease. His repertoire of cards, ropes and illusions kept us entertained until the moment our entrées arrived, at which time he politely and graciously left us to enjoy our meals.

Once again, presentation impressed us when our server delivered our meals. My husband's pair of Queen City Chops ($17.50) was marinated in a hickory/apple glaze that gave them a smoky sweet flavor. The tender chops were served with the café's signature garlic mashed potatoes and steamed vegetables. He was very pleased with both the flavor and portion.

My Chicken Portabello ($15.50) was a whole breast (with wing still attached), topped with slivers of marinated and grilled portabello mushroom. The mushrooms were very flavorful and garlicky, but the chicken was a little chewy, not as tender as I would have liked. My dish was served with the same sides as my husband's entrée, although diners have several other options, including asparagus, steak fries, roasted red-skinned potatoes, orzo, or red beans and rice.

As we contemplated dessert, we discussed how our expectations had differed from our experience. When we heard about a café featuring magicians-while-you-dine, we had had an image of children's birthday parties and families with kid's meals. Instead, we discovered that the atmosphere and entrée choices position Abracadabra as an adult restaurant. In fact, the prices might move it into the "special occasion" category. With entrée choices such as Caribbean Chicken starting at $14.95, and Horseradish Crusted Filet topping out at $24.95, diners might hope for someone to work a little magic on the final bill.

Our server returned to ask if we had saved room to sample one of the homemade desserts, and also if we cared for a second visit from a magician. Too full to accept either, we opted for a take-home piece of the seven-layer carrot cake ($5.50) and a piece of Ken's Famous Cheesecake ($4.95). Although both magically disappeared from our refrigerator overnight, I was told by a reliable source that they were delicious.

A nice change of pace from typical "dinner date" establishments, Abracadabra Café offers a unique dining experience. The magical presentations — including both the food and entertainment — will impress casual diners and special occasion dates, alike. ©

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