Page 2 of 3
OK, I tasted one clinker -- a roast pork loin stuffed with spinach, almonds and goat cheese -- on my first return to the restaurant. But owner-manager Marks says Drake was on vacation on that busy Friday night. "Not that that makes it right," Marks says. "Everything that comes out of our kitchen should be perfect, no matter who's on duty."
I'll second that emotion. But since I was dining with two ex-restaurant people, Bob and Lou Jane, we could cut the kitchen some slack; by then, we'd enthusiastically devoured a plate of plump, juicy scallops floating on a delicately smoky, pumpkin-colored pepper sauce. Even better was the appetizer of fried eggplant, sliced and layered with fresh mozzarella and thick, red tomato slices -- a tower of red, white and gold, all drizzled with a jade-colored pesto vinaigrette.
The problem with the beautifully marinated roast pork loin, Lou Jane explained, was that it had been cooked much earlier in the evening. By the time someone sliced and heated it for us, our slab was ridiculously dry and flavorless, and we barely nibbled at it. Our server noted our fallen faces and deducted the dish from the bill. But our other entrées were perfect. Bob's 8-ounce beef tenderloin, the Mama Mia, dripped with cabernet butter and arrived with creamy whipped potatoes and fresh green beans. And my cannelloni, a dish typically mangled by ersatz Italian restaurants, was right on the money here: in the pollo di spinaci version, neatly sliced pasta tubes stuffed with chicken and spinach and bubbling with a fragrant tomato and basil sugo and a garlic-scented cream sauce.
I would have loved dessert, but we'd already bought tickets to see The Stepford Wives and had to make a quick dash across the parking lot. A couple of nights later, though, Bob and I returned for a more leisurely Sunday supper on a hot and humid evening. It was unbearably sticky outside, so I had a renewed appreciation for Paulo & Bill's dark woodwork and cool, comfortable booths. Instead of an appetizer, we split one of the wood-fired pizzas, made with a remarkably light, cracker-thin dough (which is now tossed and baked to order). Ours was a mozzarella-and-goat-cheese concoction with slices of grilled portabella mushrooms, bits of asparagus and roasted red peppers.
If I'd had any discretion, I would have stopped right there, but I was ravenous, so we also shared the steak Deburgo and two fat crab cakes perched on a bed of wild rice, freshly sliced corn and sweet peppers. The former -- grilled beef medallions ladled with a white wine cream sauce flavored with a hint of rustic oregano -- is, Drake says, an Iowa innovation. It was remarkably tender. The crab patties, however, were chewy on the outside rather than crispy, and although the filling was certainly crabby, it needed a little something extra. Bob wanted some kind of rémoulade-style sauce, but our server, the superattentive Kathy, suggested the soothing lemon-oregano aïoli that's usually served with the calamari. It was the perfect accompaniment.
We were so stuffed that I nearly hid under the table when Kathy returned with the dessert tray, a massive wooden box arranged with waxy-looking display models of the desserts. It was the standard-issue PB&J assortment (including that phyllo-wrapped chocolate blob that I detest), and none really called to me until Kathy pointed to a shiny chocolate cube and announced that it represented a "chocolate mousse cake with fudge icing." That's what I heard, anyway. When it arrived, the confection was a lusciously frosted square of fluffy chocolate ganache with a scoop of rich vanilla ice cream.