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And I didn't really mind when the waitress failed to ask us about dessert, because I'd seen the refrigerated case stocked with bakery-made "French" lemon cake, an industrial-looking cheesecake and a couple of other undistinguished pastries. I didn't bother with it. (Instead, we stopped at Wheatfields Bakery on our way out of town and got some sweets for the road.)
When I returned for dinner the following night, I was pleased to see that the Westside Deli gets glammed up after sunset. For the dinner crowd, tables are draped in white linens, and paper napkins are replaced with cloth. Candles flicker and light jazz plays over the sound system. Even more promising, our suave and elegant waiter, Guiseppe from Corsica, had the elegant manners and posture of a nobleman.
This time, I'd brought Bob, who fell in love with the restaurant at precisely the moment that Guiseppe delivered a charcuterie platter as fine as any I've seen in Paris. It was generously laden with slices of homemade sausage, satiny pâté, a jumble of red onion, curls of anchovies, sweet cornichons and thin pieces of crusty baguette. We should have stopped right there, but, in a case of wanting what I want when I want it, I requested the succulent saumon fume maison: thick slabs of ruby-colored house-smoked salmon topped with crème fraiche, scattered with vinegary capers and perched on a crispy potato blini.
I grudgingly stopped nibbling on the salmon only when the salads arrived. Bob adored Levy's Kansas salad, with its piquant sunflower vinaigrette. I would have been happier if my lightly dressed Caesar had ditched those jarringly hard, prefab "croutons" that make for better mulch than meals.
The best-selling dishes here are Levy's meatloaf and a roasted chicken in a mushroom-Dijon cream. (They're also the cheapest dinners, which reveals something about the clientele.) Bob waffled between the two but finally decided, after all that meat on the charcuterie plate, that he wanted something lighter. He dined happily on the fluffy crab cakes from the appetizer list.
The four vegetarian meals on the menu also sounded fantastic, including potato gnocchi in truffle crème. But Guiseppe confided that the gnocchi dough wasn't made in Levy's kitchen, so I opted for the escalopes de porc, described as "tender pork scaloppini with gnocchi in black truffle butter sauce." That wasn't exactly the dish I received. The pork wasn't prepared scaloppini-style (pounded flat, seasoned, delicately battered and lightly fried) at all. It was a thick, moist and juicy pork chop, beautifully browned, resting on a bed of sautéed spinach and surrounded by flattened balls of slightly gummy gnocchi. I should have asked for more potato blini.
After recovering from my disappointment when you think you're getting scaloppini, you crave it, damn it I started eating the chop, which was tender and satisfying enough to brighten my mood. "You like the scaloppini, yes?" Guiseppe asked. I told him it was the best pork chop I ever had.
Guiseppe didn't forget to mention dessert and coffee, but I had reached the point of no return, gastronomically speaking, and didn't want to get sleepy on the drive home.
"But I'll come back here," Bob said brightly. "I'd like to try the seafood cannelloni and the potato blini Napoleon ... and the meatloaf."