"We wanted to give the menu more variety," Hashemy says. So he and his crew cut their losses on several pasta dishes, redesigned others (the ravioli now are stuffed with veal and portabello mushrooms) and added a half dozen new specialties, including pan-seared sea bass and grilled ahi tuna.
Casino restaurants aren't the only venues that combine commerce and cuisine. Tucked inside the city's busiest antique malls are a couple of excellent little cafes, and at least two more are in the planning stages.
Last April, former Hereford House pastry chef Cari Cavalcante took over the space formerly occupied by the Mission Road Antique Mall Bistro (4101 W. 83rd Street). The place was open for several years but had suffered complaints about its erratic hours and, Cavalcante says, "lunches that the dealers told me were just too expensive."
Cavalcante has given the little dining space -- it's in a back corner, just an arm's length away from one dealer's nineteenth-century bedroom suite and another's mustard-yellow postwar patio set -- a new name, a new menu and a fresh look. Now called the Bloomsbury Bistro, in honor of Britain's Bloomsbury Group of writers and painters (including Duncan Grant, Roger Fry and Virginia Woolf), the cafe sports a Fry-inspired mural on one wall and, on another, photos and prints of Woolf, Fry, Clive Bell and their intellectual pals.
Although she lays out excellent brunch and lunch fare, Cavalcante specializes in confections such as a dainty timbale of bittersweet chocolate bread pudding, served warm on a puddle of chocolate sauce. The vanilla-bean crème brulée is so rich, you'll feel flush enough to buy the crystal chandelier (it's for sale) hanging overhead.
Despite the highfalutin name and a sophisticated menu, Bloomsbury Bistro is -- during the day, anyway -- a Ladies Who Lunch spot. That's no surprise to antique dealer Carol Barta, who compares Bloomsbury Bistro and Jacob's Cafe, its counterpart at Independence's AntiqueLand Mall (4621 Shank Drive), with the old department-store tea rooms. "Ladies who didn't work, just shopped, would lunch in the tea rooms at Emery Bird Thayer or the John Taylor store," says Barta.
Jacob's owners, Eric Sanders and Melanie Smith, took over AntiqueLand's dining room in May, and their lunch dishes are real finds -- including a chicken breast sautéed with fresh mango and peppers, a creamy beef stroganoff and a juicy steak au poivre, all for less than $10 (including a salad). They also make their own desserts, such as fresh peach cobbler served in a soda glass with a huge scoop of ice cream.
Look for a couple of other antique-mall cafes to open soon. Carrie Colvin, spokeswoman for the newly opened Antique Sampler Shoppes on the south side of the Blue Ridge Mall, says the Antiques Sampler Cafe: Putsch's Old Place (in the space once occupied by Putsch's Cafeteria) should be open by September. "We have the chef already hired," Colvin says. And Doug and Diane Alpert, owners of the Waldo Galleria (334 W. 75th Street) are in "the discussion stage" of adding a bistro-style eatery to the courtyard behind their antique mall.
My advice: Just don't shop with your mouth full.