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Complex ingredients are combined in simple ways at Cabo's Corner Bistro.

Simply Good


The first thing you notice when you walk into is that it's a bar. A popular bar, especially on Friday and Saturday nights. The place fills up with a tightly dressed 40-and-over crowd which it maintains until closing with live music, booze and a dance floor. But over on the other side is where you find the real action, in the dining room of Chef Chris DiLauro.

DiLauro, a Johnson & Wales-trained chef, has lived the life in Richmond and New York, pulling stints as sous-chef at the Berkeley Hotel dining room and as a private caterer in the city. He cooked at Helen's for a while, too; then he opened Bacchus on the corner of Laurel and Main. Though he still is part owner of Bacchus, he left the kitchen there in November and has been executive chef at Cabo's ever since.

As executive he's responsible for the whole show, including the staff, which on our visit was professional, focused and attentive without being our newest buddies. While this keeps him busy and attentive to the front, DiLauro still holds a position on the line, which means that unless it's his day off, he's cooking your food. "The kitchen is my home," he says.

Looking over Cabo's menu you get the idea that DiLauro has a good time in his home, and he plans his menu with interest and with a respect for the individuality of his ingredients. His primaries are classics — veal, rockfish, pork, duck, salmon and chicken — and his secondary ingredients offer an interesting twist and rarely get mixed up in more than one relationship at a time.

White truffle butter is committed to tagliatelle pasta and pan-seared scallops ($21). Blood-orange sauce is monopolized with moulard duck breast ($19). Artichokes find their way into veal scaloppine. This is something of an achievement on a menu that offers 10 entrees, several specials and a half-dozen appetizers, and for a restaurant that handles more than 120 covers on its busiest nights.

There is a healthy mix of haute and bas in the prep line, too: black-eyed peas, cornbread and collards alongside tomato ragout, caramelized onions, capers and artichokes.

Rather than seeking to create complex new nations of flavors, DiLauro uses a broad palate of known quantities to assemble his selections as if to reassure us of the primacy of the doctrine of peaceful coexistence in a new world order. He strives for and achieves a collage effect without falling into chaos. "I'll never get more than three to four ingredients on a plate," he says. "What more do you need?"

And everything is fresh.

In addition to the tuna tempura, which would make an excellent nibble at the bar alongside a dry martini, I had a crispy roasted quail appetizer made up like a sort of salad and plated with bull's blood beet tops, which I had not seen before and which contributed an earthy root flavor to what is clearly a winter or early spring dish.

Though I usually avoid salmon, which has become as ubiquitous as the boneless chicken breast, I was attracted to the intimacy of Cabo's description: "Seared Atlantic salmon embraced with pancetta" ($19). Who wouldn't want to be embraced by pancetta? So I figured that maybe this salmon knew something I hadn't figured out yet. Smart fish. The pancetta clutches to the salmon like a honeymooner, yet neither item loses its personality. The dish is plated over French lentils with a roomy oyster cream.

Good coffee and a green-apple bread pudding capped with a web of melted white cheddar cheese ($6) made for a robust finale.

Other items on the menu include: sauté of rockfish "resting" on toasted cornbread, black-eyed peas and spicy crayfish butter ($18); sirloin of buffalo with wild mushrooms and tomato ragout finished with roasted garlic ($25); scaloppine of veal with brown butter, lemon, capers and artichokes ($22); and the lone vegetarian item, whole roasted yellow pepper filled with brown rice, couscous, apricots, eggplant and black olives "accented" with beet vinaigrette ($17). The most interesting salad is the locally grown arugula with a truffle balsamic vinaigrette, oven-dried tomato and parmigiano reggiano ($7).

Because the menu changes seasonally, this menu may no longer exist. But DiLauro remains on the line and in charge, and that is worth the price of admission.

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