The pace is pretty fast here at Paul Sturkey's new Encore Café at Fields-Ertel Road, so hold on. Eggplant and Merlot tones, copper hoods — wow, this place looks great. We sit. Lots of booths to hide in; we opt for a table. A happy server arrives: Drinks, yes, special, huh? She's gone.
Menus open and we're impressed. She returns. A Cosmo in a 'tini glass, too pink. An unmuddled Old Fashioned looking suspiciously like a whiskey sour.
No time, must order.
"Starters?" Caféspeak for appetizers.
What's a Cajun remolaude?
"Sort of a spicy mayonnaise." We order.
In no time at all the appetizers appear and they are lovely. The bleu cheese on the Wild Mushroom Bruschettas ($7.95) is creamy and bubbly, and the bread is crisp and fresh. The fruit salad on the Cedar-planked Bacon Wrapped Sea Scallops ($9.25) is ripe and colorful although the bacon is limp. The Feta Cheese Dip ($7.95) is flat and uninspired. The Crab and Shrimp cakes ($9.95) are crisped to perfection, and the "sort of a spicy" mayonnaise is delicious.
Uh-oh, we're slowing down and people are hovering to take the plates.
The salads arrive; the Encore Salad is fantastic: The contrast of sweet (cherries) and sour (vinaigrette), crunchy (almonds) and creamy (feta) is delightful, a really inspired salad. It's $5.50 à la carte, though, and would fit in the palm of my hand. But I've no time to think about that now. My anchovied Caesar is cold and classic. The Iceberg wedge is huge and busy with olives, cukes and ... oh, well, it's gone.
The restaurant is filling up — it is louder, crowded and the pace quickens. No sooner than salads are cleared, dinner arrives. Photo op. Chef de Cuisine Sid Jones garnishes with aplomb. The Pork Chops ($16.95) over garlic mashed potatoes, mild and just-made, and simple vegetables are glazed to perfection and garnished with fried plantains that stick up like rabbit ... a busser watches.
The Salmon ($19.95) is stacked high on risotto cakes, sticky and dry, with veggies. The fish is slightly underdone and supposedly "cashew-crusted," but piling some nuts on top after it is broiled does not a crust make. It is trying to swim in a strong, sweet hoisin reduction, accented with wasabi cream, but it's an upstream ... the high school hostess is eyeing our table — no time for cute metaphors.
My Sea Bass ($23.95) is exquisitely presented: a base of potatoes gratin, a little too crunchy for me, the ubiquitous veggies, a small piece of bass with a tomato basil cream sauce and dotted, for some reason, with cilantro oil. It is stacked high but seems curiously flat, no depth. All the entrées are stacked high, as though you need to gobble them up quickly before they fall down. The Rotini Pasta ($10.95) is surprisingly good, though, full of flavor from the herbed oil, fresh wild mushrooms, tomatoes, peas, spinach — colorful and light. She just put dessert menus on the table. Hurry!
Coffee, no. Must-have desserts, yes.
Chef Pam Sturkey's desserts ($6.25) come next. We get three. The pace seems to have infected us, and we attack the Encore Cake, a layered chocolate cake with raspberry-strawberry cheesecake garnished with a flying buttress of dark chocolate. (It too looks as if it could fall at any second, better eat it fast.) It's good, but the only really chocolate dessert they have. We also have the White Chocolate Praline Crème Brulée ($6.25), caramelized to perfection, rich and creamy. It reminds me of a brulée I had in Paris back in ... what the hell I am I talking about? Must finish. Oddly, it is presented plainly and yet is one of the best things we've had all night.
We can't resist, as no kid under 90 could, the trio of old-timey desserts they call Back in the Day: a root beer float, a pink cow and a tin roof sundae with Spanish peanuts and house-made chocolate sauce, all presented in tiny little A&W mugs with chocolate chip cookies to garnish (aaugh, ice cream headache). Cute presentation, but that's it.
Well, it looks as though our hour is up. We hurry out, I don't know why. My final rushed thoughts (I'm afraid I'll forget them tomorrow) are that the restaurant is expensively appointed, the staff is attractive and quick, and the food stunningly presented. And yet, somehow, it ends there.
There is simply no depth to this place, beautifully adequate at best. It falls somewhere between fine dining (the prices) and casual bistro (the service) and left me feeling a bit, well, underwhelmed ... and rushed.©
Go: 9521 Fields-Ertel Road, Symmes Township
Hours: Lunch: 11 a.m.-3 p.m. MondayFriday, Dinner: 4-10 p.m. Sunday-Thursday, 5-10 p.m. Friday-Saturday
Red Meat Alternatives: Pasta and fish