Chef Alex Pope raises the R Bar 

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My friend Marvin proclaimed the funnel cake "the white-trash version of an amuse-bouche." He also hated the waffle dotted with Hackleback sturgeon roe and sour cream. "It might have been good, maybe, if Alex Pope used an Eggo waffle, which — say what you like about them — are usually light. The waffle we received was so hard that I could have used it as a paver in my garden," he griped. "We finally just scraped the caviar off."

I never would have ordered the dish anyway. I'm not that crazy about waffles with syrup, let alone caviar. So I ordered the cassoulet slaw as a starter the night I dined with Bob and Martha. Bob had beef tartar with chipotle butter as a first course (he said he didn't like it but finished every bite) and, for his entrée, mussels steamed in a lemongrass broth. He liked those. And Martha's short ribs were exceptionally good, and I loved the soothing lamb-and-feta sausage served with wonderful homemade noodles and a punchy lemony mint tzatziki sauce.

We were sitting in one of the back booths, far enough away from the madding crowd at the bar (where local bon vivant Chadwick Brooks was holding court) that we could have a real conversation. And I could keep my eyes on the servers dashing to and from Pope's kitchen. I was relieved that we had the handsome and attentive Miles as our waiter, because a couple of the other servers seemed more than a little frazzled.

On the night I dined with Georgina, Kathy and Franklin, they insisted on a booth at the very back of the dining room. "I usually don't like eating so close to the restrooms," Georgina sniffed, "but this section of the restaurant — which would be Siberia anyplace else — is the most comfortable." The fact that the Hoffmans were in the next booth just confirmed her opinion. "Only the nobodies sit up front," she whispered.

I'm sure I rolled my eyes as I dipped my spoon into a bowl of Pope's autumn potage, an excellent combination of spicy chorizo and white beans in a pumpkin-colored, roasted-garlic and rosemary broth. Bob didn't care for his crab cake. ("It's not moist. It's damp," he whined.) But Kathy loved her romaine salad with roasted pears and a bacon vinaigrette.

There's only one steak — a smoked hanger steak — on the menu. You want a T-bone, cowboy? Go to the Golden Ox across the street. Georgina and Kathy both had the tender, sliced hunk of beef, smothered in a wildly rich hollandaise and sided with parmesan hash browns and Brussels sprouts. I thought it was a first-rate little steak, but Georgina turned up her nose. "Too fancy." Fancy? It's a $22 hanger steak, I wanted to scream. Luckily, Bob loved the quartet of superb pan-browned scallops on a silky sweet-potato tart — I did, too, and ate half of them myself.

The desserts I tasted could use a little tinkering: The cheddar and apple cheesecake with the layer of bacon was too fragile to actually get a decent bite — it crumbled as soon as a fork touched it — and the flourless chocolate cake was divinely fudgy, but do we really need another flourless chocolate cake in this town? The banana flan sounded interesting and looked wonderful as servers delivered it to other booths, but no one in my group wanted to taste it. "It sounds pretentious," Georgina said.

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