Couples having a baby are often asked if they want to know the sex of the future bundle of joy. While many do, some say that with so few good surprises in life, why not let this be one of them?
I know that comparing birth to eating out might be a bit of a stretch, but I've found the same principle can apply. Think about it — you could go the safe route and have a chain burger or go to The Palace or Pigall's for a special occasion dinner. Either way, you know what you're in for.
Now, if you know nothing more than the restaurant's name, which is what did for my visit to Reserve Restaurant and Piano Lounge, you might be in for one of those good surprises with which life is so stingy.
Gary Ginn, Stan Trusler and Tony DeMatteo recently moved and renamed their restaurant on Fourth Street (Federal Reserve Restaurant). When we arrived for an early dinner on a Monday, we found ourselves in the company of the piano player and a couple with a young child. I guess I did have a few expectations before crossing the threshold; the name had called to mind a very adult evening, so I was surprised by the presence of an urchin. Once I glanced at the menu I saw the restaurant actually encourages them, providing their own little section with a choice of Fried Macaroni and Cheese, Chicken Tenders, a Pasta Bowl or a Kid Pizza (all are $5).
The piano player was a bit of a surprise as well. Again, the name conjured up images of someone in a white tie and tails. Or at least a suit. Our player donned baggy khakis and dread-locks — unconventional, but he was a good player with a repertoire that included "Misty" and John Coltrane's "My Favorite Things."
Our server was brisk and polite as he went over specials, made recommendations and delivered drinks to our black-linen-clad table. With the black and white décor, it felt like the owners were going for an elegant vibe, which only made the urchin and pianist more disjointed. But I came to the conclusion that the schizophrenic nature of the joint was on purpose. After looking at the very affordable prices for steaks and seafood (my glass of Coppola Claret was only $9), I think the owners have a populist view and a desire to bring an elegant evening out to folks that might find it difficult to go if they had to pay $30 a pop for an entrée.
We started our meal with the Appetizer Tray ($12.50 per person) that came with a choice of Fried Lobster, Shrimp Scampi, Fried Calamari, Blackened Shrimp, Blackened Beef Tips, Mussels Scampi, Fried Cheese and Shrimp Cocktail. Having read about the fried lobster on a couple of local food blogs, I decided to pick that to accompany our blackened beef tips and shrimp cocktail.
The dish our server brought forth was huge and I began to despair about ordering and eating an entrée. The platter was filled with a pile of lightly breaded and fried lobster morsels, some very tender and tasty (if not very spicy) beef pieces and four nice-sized shrimp. Of the three dipping sauces, the béarnaise was definitely the best, but the signature sauce, which Executive Chef Jody Miller divulged was a combo of sarcho and mayo that came with the lobster, was a close second.
We followed this platter o' protein with the Spicy Diablo pasta ($12) with penne pasta, onions, red and green peppers with a spicy tomato cream and the 10-ounce New York Strip ($20) with steak fries and a side of sautéed spinach ($5). The pasta wasn't drenched in sauce (thank goodness) and the cream was offset by a subtle heat in the background, but with a name that include the words "spicy" and "Diablo" I really expected my mouth to be on fire and the cream in the sauce to be undertones that soothed the burn on its way down.
The sautéed spinach was one of several side dish offers that included asparagus and broccoli — I applaud any restaurant that includes so many green things in its side category. It was bright and spiked with garlic — a good choice for a side for the pasta.
My husband's steak was done just as he asked for it: medium. We've come to judge restaurants that specialize in steaks on whether they cook it according to the customer's request or the chef's ego. The Reserve passed the muster by serving a dish the way a customer asked for it.
One of my favorite items of the meal was the beer-battered French fries that accompanied my husband's steak. It's a shame those aren't on the kids' menu — they don't know what they are missing! The fries were such a deep golden hue and so crisp that they almost seemed lacquered. I really don't know when I've had better.
We ended the evening with a carryout order of the Caramel Apple Cheesecake stack ($5) concocted by the restaurant's pastry chef, Renee Miller. I have to say, someone in that kitchen has a ring mold they love — it was used on our salads, the spinach and the dessert!
The top layer of the cake was drizzled in caramel and the bottom layer scented with cinnamon. Very delicate flavors that held up well with a dessert that can be very heavy. �
Reserve Restaurant and Piano Lounge
Go: Newport on the Levee, Newport
Hours: 4 p.m.-1 a.m. daily
Dinner Entree Prices: $12-$26
Payment: All major credit cards
Red Meat Alternatives: Salads, pasta, seafood
Accessibility: Fully accessible