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I don't usually order dessert at lunch, but Carol Ann insisted. And Czaja presents a compelling list of sweets: a crème brûlée (of course), a fruit cobbler and a flourless chocolate torte served with a tiny scoop of gianduja (a hazelnut ice cream that sounds a lot more exotic than it tastes). We enjoyed the fudgy and dense chocolate torte, but remember this description because there's more to the torte tale.
When I returned for dinner on a cold Wednesday night, I was with Shelby, a conversationalist. He mostly talked about trying to find a new job. As it turned out, our beautiful server, Carly, had been laid-off from her white-collar position nearly a year ago. She was an excellent waitress, though: candid, diplomatic, personable.
After we briefly mourned the state of the economy, we all turned our attention to the dinner menu. I let Shelby choose the starter and winced when he chose the crispy shrimp and calamari combo. I'm pretty bored with calamari, but I liked the light tempura breading on City Tavern's version, which had lots of crunchy fried shrimp and tons of fried onion strings and not so much calamari. Actually, I'm not sure there was any, but who gives a damn. I'm sick of it anyway.
I was hardly more enthusiastic about the Caesar salad, best described as pallid (except for the croutons, which were good this time). Shelby's soup, on the other hand — a supple potato and goat-cheese concoction — was wonderful.
Because City Tavern has a good rep for its steaks, I insisted that Shelby order the medallions of filet mignon, served on a mound of creamy, blue-cheese risotto dotted with chopped Anjou pears. The beef medallions were lusciously tender. While the risotto was too rich for me. Shelby savored every bite.
I never would have ordered the shellfish potpie if it wasn't one of this restaurant's signature dishes. A potpie filled with shrimp, lobster and grilled scallops in a lemon cream sauce seems like the culinary version of Dame Edna — way over the top. But I've got to say it was one of the most sensational variations on the potpie theme I've ever tasted. Under the flaky, golden puff-pastry crust was a comforting assortment of pink shrimp, chopped scallops, lobster, potatoes, celery and carrots in a light cream sauce. It's not for the fainthearted, though; I could only finish half.
I was ready to try that night's cobbler, an apple-and-pear creation, but Shelby wanted chocolate. And that damn torte was the only one that met that requirement. So I ordered it again and made an interesting discovery: It didn't even look like the same confection served the previous week. This time, instead of being dense and fudgy, the cube-shaped slice of cake was airy and dry. I wouldn't even bet that it was flourless. But it was chocolate, and Shelby ate most of it.
"It wasn't bad," he said, "but it wasn't quite the way the waitress described it."
I'm sure there's a story there. And I would gladly go back to hear it, while I just sit and do what I do best. Eat.