Frill Factor

 

Scallops with homemade artichoke tapenade ($13) don’t gain much from mascarpone-saffron sauce, but they at least taste as nice as they look, and a plate of subtle house-cured smoked salmon, little white anchovies, and fresh baby octopus ($12) is the most straightforward and, not coincidentally, best appetizer.

The homemade pastas, too, are made with fresh ingredients—but are sometimes disappointing. Best are the firm, not rubbery, nuggets of potato gnocchi in a simple tomato sauce with small, half-melted cubes of mozzarella ($15), and rigatoni with homemade Bolognese ($15), though the sauce was a bit winey and needed to cook longer. Very wide pappardelle ribbons ($17) came with plenty of fresh chanterelles (Singh told me of his affinity for mushrooms, something I’d guessed), but were too redolent of truffle oil.

The main courses are the most successful, particularly a terrific duck dish two ways ($26), offering an herb-and-garlic-marinated breast that tastes like tender steak, and a soft but not mushy confited duck leg, less greasy and stringy than most local versions. The broccoli rabe sautéed with olive oil and garlic makes a perfect match, and if the sweet-and-sour poached cipollini and pear are a touch too much, the dish is still one I could eat often. So is the exemplary veal chop ($35)—not the kind of jawbreaking, wallet-busting behemoth chefs seem to need to show off with these days, but an ample yet modest piece of meat in a simple, old-fashioned continental chicken-stock-based sauce flavored with shallots and thickened with cream. It’s fancy food that feels like a special night out.

Among desserts, the chocolate soufflé is the best of the generally overly fussy, underflavored options (all $8). Singh brought us a second because his sous-chef hadn’t let the first one rise high enough. We liked the sweet ooze of both, and felt indulged and cared for. The fruit crostata, rather than being the traditional homey lattice-top dessert of pie crust with fruit jam, is presented here as a fancified version with puff pastry and out-of-season plums and berries—making for a passable fruit tart, but not a crostata.

And we felt a bit lonely in a spacious restaurant where, on one visit at 10:30 on a Monday night, we were the only diners. We’ll see whether the out-of-towners around Park Square will discover this kinder, gentler alternative to big-city dining, and whether the fans from the suburbs who understandably miss the warm, welcoming chef and owner will keep coming downtown to wish them well—and keep them afloat.