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Café Mandolin is a quiet, sophisticated and tasty refuge from the outside world.

All the Right Stuff

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In what has become an art gallery village of sorts —Astra, Reynolds, Parks Duffey and Uptown, among others — a new restaurant has opened, giving those who enjoy dining in the Fan yet another place to try for lunch, dinner or Sunday brunch. The location, 1309 W. Main St., won't ring a bell for many. The previous tenant was a beauty shop that did a modest amount of business. Modest is not what I'd call the kind of business Café Mandolin was doing on a recent Saturday night.

Thankfully, I'd called that afternoon for a reservation and was delighted to find they accept them, even for a lowly party of two. To add to my euphoria, they had room at 7:30 p.m. While there was no line out of the door when we arrived, the place was almost seated to capacity. The crowd was unusually diverse, with a smattering of young twentysomethings and the majority over 40.

A departure from the usual Fan hardwood floors and pressed tin ceilings, the look of Café Mandolin is warm and upscale. The entire floor is covered with oatmeal tweed carpet and the wrought iron dining chairs are covered in a classy off-white damask. White tablecloths and cloth napkins provide upscale details.

Chef Nancy Cohen is a psychologist by trade who's had a longtime interest in food and, after self-teaching in the culinary arts, did stints in the kitchens of Sunday's and the Henry Clay Inn. She has put together an interesting menu. Every one of the starters sounded delicious, from the Café Mandolin crab bisque with tomato and marsala cream ($4.95) to the seared sea scallops with cilantro/ginger pesto ($7.95). We decided to share the roasted garlic shrimp with herbed feta cheese ($7.95) and were not disappointed. Though a bit steep in price for an appetizer, the four medium-sized shrimp were grilled to perfection and the feta added a wonderful zing.

[image-1]Photo by Stacy Warner / richmond.com Three salads are offered: mixed field greens with gorgonzola, fresh pears and spicy pecans with pear vinaigrette ($4.95); baby spinach and mushrooms with caramelized shallot vinaigrette ($4.25); and Roma tomato with fresh mozzarella, basil, balsamic vinegar and olive oil ($4.25). The Romas were red and ripe, served with generous round slices of fresh mozzarella and lots of basil leaves. Balsamic vinaigrette was a perfect accompaniment to this warm-weather favorite.

We were informed that the grouper entrée was gone and a couple of others were running low, but there was still plenty from which to pick. Bottomless Pitt chose the Thai vegetable platter of field greens, rice noodles and spicy peanut sauce and added grilled jumbo shrimp for an extra cost ($17.95). It was also available with crispy tofu ($15.95). His plate was piled high with veggies — broccoli, snow peas, green beans and heavy on the carrots and red cabbage. The four shrimp were grilled and served on a skewer. Red alert: The spicy peanut sauce is not for lightweights! B.P. managed it well, but mentioned at one point that he was no longer able to taste anything. Fortunately, this was after he'd reported that all was delicious, even if a tad too veggie-oriented for the carnivore he is at heart.

My herb-crusted salmon with lemon dill beurre blanc ($16.95) was absolutely heavenly. Served with perfectly sautéed haricot verts and skillet potatoes, the salmon had just the right touch of crunch on the exterior and was moist and piping hot on the inside. The lemon dill beurre blanc added a mild tang. Next time I visit I'll have a tough time trying something different but the red pepper fettucine with roasted corn, gorgonzola cream and toasted walnuts looks mighty good, too.

For dessert, we really wanted a slice of cheesecake but, alas, they were out. We opted for the banana chocolate chip cake drizzled in chocolate. Our waiter informed us that it's his favorite and he always asks for it for his birthday — lucky him, the chef's his mom. The cake was an unexpected pleasure with plenty of warm chocolate topping.

Dining at Café Mandolin — named for both the musical instrument and the slicer — was an infinitely pleasant experience. Our waiter was attentive, timely and helpful. Overall, we found this newcomer to be a quiet, sophisticated refuge from the outside

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