Along the short stretch of Sylvania's downtown commercial strip, The Restaurant is just one more storefront, one more doorway. But step inside and you enter a realm of fine dining that is rare throughout the region. Only a few other establishments match the culinary excellence founding partners Chef Todd Biggs and Ray Gentile strive mightily to achieve.
Enter by that front door or via the canopied rear entrance from the off-street parking lot and the effect is the same: Nothing has been left to chance here.
Faux stone painted effects cover walls, ceilings, and beams in the long back passage and dining areas. Indirect lighting enhances the subtle effect throughout. Gauzy draperies define three distinct spaces - the bar in front plus a few window tables, the nonsmoking center, and the smoke-'em if you got-'em rear (happily, no one seemed to be of the mind to light up the evening we were present). Floors are carpeted in soft green, and tables wear blush pink linens. China and tableware are oversized, understated. Flowers are fresh; real candles flicker.
The effect, a little bit ironic, a little bit Gothic, is cozy, refined, and unobtrusive, visual contrivances promising equally subtle delights for the palate.
Gentile (jen-TEE-leh) greets and seats most guests, flicking rose-hued napkins out of their fancy folds and across the lap. Service is attentive but not intrusive, although there are a few idiosyncrasies in procedures.
The wine list is comprehensive, although with a few gaps - Gentile does the selections and admitted shortages in some areas, while happily touting The Restaurant's inclusion in a nationally-ranked list of dining spots to be published in Wine Spectator magazine in August.
Our wine was served on a napkin on the white charger plate, an odd arrangement that seemed to resist the comfort promised by other elements of the place. A side dish held a slowly dissolving squiggle of herbed butter - but no bread. When it arrived, after the drinks, it came tiny piece by piece, each about four crunchy mouthfuls of baguette, bought frozen, we were told, and baked fresh on the premises.
Daily specials were pronounced as menus were delivered. The night we visited, softshell crabs - available grilled as either appetizer or entr e - and Copper River salmon were highlights.
For openers, we chose the cold cucumber soup, a creamy concoction with a tiny crunch of vegetables and savory herbal hints, and the crab, two of which were laid atop a spinach-couscous melange, topped with a black bean sauce. It was an odd pairing saved by the fresh, well-seasoned crustacean.
Other “first flavor” options included Cajun shrimp saut ed with vodka, chevre ravioli, a vegetarian wrap, and a mix-and-match opportunity to sample oysters Rockefeller, clams, mussels, and duck drummettes.
House salads preceding the entrees were colorful to the eye and delightful to the taste buds: tender greens sprinkled with bits of fresh fruit and vegetables. They were topped with house-made dressings including a dreamy orange blossom vinaigrette and a lusty roasted garlic-blue cheese. The Restaurant offers an extraordinary array of salad options beyond its standard. Highlights include grilled duck breast on greens with roasted pears and brie; grilled flank steak with bean-corn salsa, grilled scallops with avocado puree and marinated roasted vegetables, and, a true rarity, wilted spinach salad.
Signature dishes are rack of New Zealand lamb, Ahi tuna encrusted with wasabi peas, filet of beef in a Bordeaux reduction with blue cheese risotto, veal scaloppini, duck, and salmon. Our choices were the duck and the salmon special.
We couldn't have been happier.
The Muscovy duck breast, grilled to order, was served fanned around a mound of cumin-flavored cauliflower-mashed potatoes. Lacquered with a rich Balsamic glaze and accented with apricot Stilton cheese, the duck was succulent, tender, as flavorful as any fowl ever tasted. It was magnificent.
The salmon, a thick filet slightly blackened and grilled, was delicate and juicy. Its accompaniments were a nutty black rice, a generous dollop of mashed and seasoned avocado, and grilled baby bok choy.
Perhaps it's wrong to follow such wonderful flavors and textures with dessert, but we were on a roll. Pear-ginger ice cream was a swirl of fruity-spicy perfumes, a lovely conclusion to a fine meal.
The tour de force, a “Country Dessert” de jour was an apple tart, the shell a circlet of puff pastry, the apples creamy and not too sweet with, surprise, nutmeg and perhaps a whiff of coriander instead of cinnamon. With rich homemade ice cream, it was a winner.
Other choices included figs Foster - saut ed fruit on ice cream - a vanilla bean cheesecake, a cr me brulee, and a chocolate truffle tart, all prepared on the premises.
The entire repast ran over $100 for the two of us and lasted more than two hours, making dining at The Restaurant an event in itself, not to mention a delicious way to wind down a week.