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EATING IS FUNDAMENTAL

Needless to say, I was dying to come back for dinner. This time the staff had the great excuse of the computer system being down, which meant we were there for three hours instead of the two it took for lunch. This is not a three-hour-dinner place--no matter how lovely the setting, the food isn't appealing enough to linger over. One notable exception was the creamy corn-and-green-chile soup ($3.50), a well-balanced dish with a rich tone and a full-bodied pepper bite. Its complexity took us completely by surprise; had we been thinking, we would have just ordered more soup for the rest of our meal. Instead, we plowed through the mixed-greens salad ($3.25), which consisted of about a half-pound of lettuce slightly dampened by a teaspoonful of balsamic-and-roasted-garlic vinaigrette. We were a little suspicious of the mussels appetizer ($6.95) because the shellfish smelled and tasted so strong. Their fishy flavor permeated--nay, obliterated--the shallots, diced tomatoes and Tabernash Weiss beer in the broth. But once I realized the waiter wouldn't be coming back with our entrees for at least another half-hour, I slurped the broth down anyway, using an empty mussel shell as a spoon. We certainly didn't find much sustenance in the appetizer of grilled polenta ($4.50), which looked like it had been dusted with black talcum powder (it wasn't black pepper; we checked)--a sure sign that the grill needed to be cleaned.

On the other hand, the grilled scallops with fettucine ($14.50) looked like they'd never touched a grill at all. The fettucine was undercooked, too, and arrived in a big mound topped by those four barely cooked scallops, four blobs of gorgonzola and a thin, pasty tomato sauce that had been described as "fennel, tomato and herbs in a gorgonzola, garlic and wine broth." Not even close. We'd had some hopes for the roast duck ($16.95), but the meat tasted like bland beef and the sauce tasted like the meat, with none of the zest of the zinfandel it was purported to contain. That was a big disappointment, because even though the wine lends itself readily to cooking, it's not used in most kitchens.

Wines are obviously important to the Fourth Story, as evidenced by the list assembled by manager Chris Golub. Twenty wines--a generous, and rare, number--are available by the glass, and the roster is well-priced and nicely chosen, as is the after-dinner selection. We skipped the drinks in favor of two desserts: the "Fourth Story," a slice of four-layer chocolate cake ($3.75), and a combination of almond pound cake and fresh berries ($3.50). At least these weren't write-offs; both were perfectly adequate, if average.

Although it's tempting to judge the Fourth Story by its cover, man does not live by books alone. And if the food doesn't improve here, I'd rather eat my words.

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