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Jeanne's daughter, the teenage Alexandra, is currently a vegetarian. Our server suggested a couple of meat-free options, including this restaurant's most-discussed dish — a truffle Gouda mac and cheese that can be prepared without the ham. Alexandra was game, but the dish surprised her: a big crock of bubbling and insanely creamy sauce that was a little stingy on the pasta. "It looks like baby food," Truman sniffed. Alex had to dig around a bit before she found that first noodle. I took a taste and liked it, but I was glad I hadn't ordered it because I would have been comatose after three bites.
Besides, I'd ordered my own pasta dish, a bowl of fettuccine tossed in a truffle sauce with braised leeks, sun-dried tomatoes, mushrooms, and a sumptuously tender and succulent duck leg — à la confit — falling off the bone.
Truman, who has been on a hunt for the perfect plate of liver and onions for years, was hoping that chef Eckard's version would be it. "It's light and tender and not very livery," he announced after tasting slices of pale, pink veal liver with a horseradish au jus. "But bland — it needs something."
Jeanne made the same comment about her visually beautiful hunk of meatloaf served with wild-mushroom gravy and topped with a golden mound of fried onion strings. "It needs more seasoning," she said, reaching for the salt shaker. I was scandalized.
Despite their complaints, they both took home their unfinished portions — the dinners were quite generous — and Truman took the rest of Alex's pasta, too. "I bet it will be great cold," he said. (It was, he told me later, despite being "excessively rich.") And all three still insisted on dessert: an excellent house-made cheesecake and a fudgy but not-so-memorable chocolate layer cake from a commercial bakery.
It was an even colder night when I dined with Peter and Keith, and we gratefully took a table in the bar so that we could sit next to a fireplace with burning gas logs. I didn't realize that Peter had become a vegetarian since meeting Keith, and they looked over the Zest menu with some concern. "We don't eat fish, either," Peter said.
Our beautiful server, Rachel, suggested the grilled-onion and Gorgonzola pizza and the linguine primavera.
Since the two vegetarians were sharing house-made potato chips as a starter, I chose a meatier option: a soft baguette split and scattered (not "stuffed," as the menu states) with a modest amount of garlic butter, prosciutto and Romano cheese. It's a great idea for an appetizer but needs some serious rethinking.
I noticed that Rachel didn't wield her Palm Pilot like the other servers but seemed to be using her God-given memory instead. Bad move. She brought Peter and Keith the vegetarian linguine (bland, boring) but a bowl of onion soup instead of the pizza. She was mortified at her mistake: "I thought you ordered the three-onion soup," she said, even though the soup isn't called that. The grilled-onion pizza came out in short order, though, and it was superb. "The winner of the night," Peter proclaimed it.
Alas, my burger wasn't the best I've eaten, and even though the crispy shoestring fries were fabulous, I'm not sure it all justified its hefty price tag and the additional $1 charge for a slice of cheese.