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It occurred to me that I should venture up there myself and see what was going down on the upper floor, but just then my dinner arrived.
I'm not the type of carnivore to order many dishes that sound as healthy as grilled vegetables splashed with balsamic vinegar and served with a risotto du jour, but I liked Dana's description of Linebach's lemon-basil risotto and, God knows, I could stand to eat a few more vegetables. The risotto, which is delicately flavored with basil and a clean citrus tang, is vegan-friendly. (Linebach uses vegetable stock and olive oil instead of meat stock and butter.) It's surrounded by a delicious combination of grilled red onions, carrots, mushrooms and green beans.
I gave Marilyn a scoop of my risotto and took some of her lovely, fork-tender braised short ribs, which Linebach pan-sears with garlic, beef stock and red wine, then slow cooks for six or seven hours. Across the table, Bob sang praises for his beautifully grilled, juicy 12-ounce ribeye (at $20, it's one of the most expensive dishes on the menu), sided with mashed potatoes. And we all marveled at Jackie's buttermilk cider chicken, which looked nearly as luscious as it tasted.
Linebach marinates those chicken breasts for 24 hours in fresh buttermilk (as his Aunt Leila taught him) and cooks it in a pan with a reduction of apple cider, heavy cream and chicken stock, then serves it covered with tart, tissue-thin apple slices. It's one of the most succulent chicken dishes I've ever tasted, and I wish there were more offerings like it on the menu.
We shared a fudgy slab of rich chocolate layer cake, which was sort of a disappointment after the creative and exciting entrees. (All of the desserts at Thomas are made at a corporate bakery.)
My next visit brought more disappointments. I took along Mark and Camille, who live within walking distance of Thomas and were eager to try the new place, although they had their own preconceptions. "It's expensive, isn't it?" Mark asked.
Not really, I tried to explain, although those small plates can add up after a while. We were unimpressed with the goat cheese two quarter-sized discs in a pond of hearty marinara, sided by slivers of toasted baguette. Much better was Linebach's clever spin on shrimp cocktail: spicy grilled jumbo shrimp on wooden skewers poking out of a martini glass filled with chilled guacamole.
It was a hot night, so Camille thought she would eat light by nibbling on two small plates (which aren't so small) instead of a full entrée. I decided to do the same and share with her, while Mark ordered that buttermilk cider chicken which I soon coveted.
Our bruschetta was heaped with a thick blanket of chopped hot house tomatoes (which I find flavorless). That wasn't as disconcerting as the mess that the menu had called a fresh mozzarella salad. What arrived did involve slices of creamy soft mozzarella, perched on a mound of soggy, overdressed spinach and sprinkled with sliced cherry tomatoes. It was too ridiculous to eat.
We were much happier with a plate of sumptuous beef tips, seared in garlic and olive oil, on a bed of warm burgundy mushrooms. That small plate could easily have passed as an entrée.
When our waiter rattled off the night's dessert list, Camille was intrigued by a pastry described as raspberry red velvet cake. "I've never had red velvet cake made with raspberry," she said. She still hasn't. The cake, layered with thick cream cheese frosting, was a traditional light cocoa-flavored red velvet cake. There was no hint of raspberry, although it was garnished with a few.