Ever since Phil Dunn closed his very popular Phil Dunn's Cook Shop at 431 Old East Vine Street, the restaurants that have moved into the space haven't been nearly as successful. Now, the space is occupied by Annette's City Café.
I've yet to see it crowded at night, but Annette's is a catering business first. It is open for dinner on Fridays and Saturdays only, lunch on weekdays (when it can be crowded) and brunch on Sunday. I've been there multiple times during the past month or so, sampling Annette's wares.
I had lunch with colleagues at Annette's about a month ago. It wasn't a review meal by any means, but if you think I wasn't watching, think again. I had the quiche of the day, which turned out to be exceptional. Annette's made it with blue cheese — not a lot, but enough for me to say “wow.” Everyone at the table got a bite. They loved it, too. It was incredible, but it was the “quiche of the day,” which means not every day.
Earlier in the month, I ate at Annette's with a friend. We both had the same entree, beef tenderloin medallions encrusted with cracked black peppercorns ($25). You can't go wrong with beef and pepper. The two were made for each other. We wanted the beef rare, and that's the way it was served. With the cracked black peppercorns and a bourbon mushroom demi-glaze, it was fantastic. I couldn't wait to do an “official“ review dinner.
That review came last week. Still, no crowd on Friday night. Annette's is an upscale restaurant, nice and roomy, with live music every Friday and Saturday night. It offers a somewhat limited menu and rarely any specials.
We started the review dinner with drinks — an O'Doul's alcohol-free beer ($2) and a glass of Rodney Strong cabernet sauvignon ($7). From there, we ordered appetizers from a list of four. We sampled the country ham and Gruyère quesadilla ($7). Delicious. The ham and cheese were placed between two flour tortillas and grilled, then cut into wedges and served with a coarsely ground mustard. We were delighted.
The other appetizer was vegetable tempura ($7). The veggies (zucchini, yellow squash and carrot) had been dipped in a very light batter and deep fried. The end result was just a wisp of crispy crust around al dente vegetables. Japanese restaurants don't do it any better. They were served with a nice horseradish sauce.
Salads (only two listed) were, as expected, nice. I tried the “Lexington Best,” which was Bibb lettuce and other mixed greens tossed with candied pecans, Mandarin oranges and crumbled blue cheese. The bourbon-citrus dressing that was served on the side, however, lacked any taste. I had to ask one of the servers what it was. If there was bourbon in it, I couldn't tell. The salad was good without the dressing.
The Caesar salad ($4) was good but nothing out of the ordinary. It wasn't as anchovy- laden as we would have liked (some people might like that better), but the Romaine lettuce was fresh and the Parmesan cheese on top was good. The croutons were very garlicky.
Of the seven entrees offered (no specials), we ordered lamb ($26) and apple-glazed pork tenderloin ($21).
We were disappointed with the pork tenderloin. It was very dry and tough. These days, pork is a bit tricky. Hogs are bred to be leaner. If the meat is cooked at too high a temperature, it gets tough. I don't think the pork would have impressed a soul that night.
However, the lamb was absolutely delicious. It had been advertised as lamb chops, but we were notified early on that they had been switched to rack of lamb (at least four double ribs). I don't recall telling our server how we wanted them (rare, medium or well-done), but they came medium-rare and were perfect. The lamb had been roasted with rosemary, which produced a lovely flavor and an aroma that was noticeable when they were served. Fantastic.
The sides — we ordered potatoes au gratin and grilled asparagus — were heaven. The potatoes were made with blue cheese (not too much, but detectable), and the fresh asparagus had been grilled and lightly charred. Both were exceptional and absolutely made the dinner.
Lastly, a dessert tray was brought to the table. The cakes and pastries are made from scratch at Annette's. We sampled carrot cake and lemon chess pie ($4 each). The carrot cake was rich, moist and topped with cream cheese icing. The lemon chess pie looked very similar to Magee's Bakeries' transparent pie, but unlike Magee's it was full of lemon flavor. Both desserts were washed down with rather standard cups of coffee ($2 each).
Dinner for two, including tax but not tip, was $96.46.