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"I'm glad to see that this place is already attracting celebrities," Steve said as he spread a bit of chopped, pickled vegetables on a wedge of warm pita bread. The hummus was good; even better was the bruschetta heaped with chopped tomato and fresh mozzarella. But both dishes paled in comparison with the dishy Courtney, who strolled over to tell us that she had recently moved to Florida to be the promotions director for a complex of nightclubs. "They bought me a house," she said.
She was performing that evening but not until well after Steve and I finished our meal, of luscious Kobe beef sliders, excellent small French-dip sandwiches with layers of shaved beef piled on garlic-roasted mini baguettes, and addictive little sausage sandwiches — all sided with a first-class Brussels sprout cole slaw that sounded awful but was actually wonderful. We ended with a tasty chocolate-mousse confection made not in Leventhal's kitchen but by one of those big conglomerate food-service operations.
"You're not staying for the show?" Cory pouted when I paid the check. Another time, we promised.
But I lied. I returned several nights later with my friend Debbie, who loved everything about Flo's Cabaret. She thought the décor was divine. "Those faux-painted walls! It's so 1980s. I love that," she gushed. She was crazy about Cory, too. He didn't push our sticking around for that night's show, but Debbie was tempted after he told her that Raven's lip-synching repertoire included Dolly Parton and Celine Dion.
The food was showy enough. Debbie's Moroccan chicken comprised lightly curried chicken breasts served on a puddle of devilishly sweet chili sauce, sided with fresh green beans sautéed with garlic and a fine couscous dotted with chopped fresh vegetables. I didn't know what to expect after reading the description of the fresh-salmon pinwheels. It didn't do justice to the actual dish: plump pink salmon fillets rolled around a dollop of pesto and Boursin cheese, baked until hot, delectable and juicy and slathered in a robust roasted-red-pepper sauce.
We didn't stay for the show that night, either. "That's all right," Flo assured us after I paid the tab. "This place is a restaurant for most of the night. We want people to come and eat."
There was a show already in progress a couple of nights later when I arrived for dinner with Cynthia. It wasn't a drag show but one of the Fringe Festival's short plays. Because we only saw the last 30 minutes or so of playwright Michael Ruth's Homo Terrorist, I can't begin to describe the plot, but there was one memorable line. As the gay terrorist is plotting to bomb God-only-knows-what, his partner cries, "This is no time for Italian pastry!" I'll use that one myself sometime.
The room was so dark, I could barely see the appetizer I was eating. Once I fumbled around and grasped a wedge of the shrimp flatbread baked with a tart basil-tomato relish and molten mozzarella, I liked it a lot, though Cynthia thought the cheese was weirdly gooey.
And for some reason, possibly because it was so hard to read the menu in the dark, I had assumed that the "plum sesame seed encrusted ahi tuna niçoise" was going to be a salad! What arrived was actually a hearty meal with thick slabs of pan-seared tuna afloat on a supple, hot concoction of chopped peppers, olives and tomatoes, tossed in a warm vinaigrette that was created with a heavy dose of Dijon mustard.
Cynthia's beef medallions were excellent but might have been better served with a blue-cheese sauce rather than the uneven fromage spread on the tender beef and a splash of a satiny marsala reduction. And after one bite, she avoided the towering pile of garlic mashers, which could have warded off the entire population of Transylvania. While we were finishing the meal, both Cory and Koop stopped by the table in T-shirts and shorts, their faces heavily painted for that night's show.