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But there was nothing lacking in Skydiner's glorious version of the ubiquitous spinach and artichoke dip ($4.25): A creamy, cheesy mixture glued the veggies together with just the right amount of tart tang, and a nice gratin lid added crunch to the buttery croutons that came with the dip. Rinehart's wonderful bread also worked as a dipper: He makes a dense, doughy, yeasty loaf that's also heavenly smeared into Skydiner's good-quality table olive oil. And the fried shrimp ($7.25) should be the golden rule for anyone thinking of offering the too often overcooked, over-battered crustaceans: These were ideal, with a thin, crunchy-crumbly shell that housed still-moist shrimp and accompanied by a Jack Daniel's-sweetened cocktail sauce.
Like the appetizers, though, Skydiner's entrees were also partly cloudy. A plate of penne arrabbiata ($9.95, or $10.95 if you throw in Italian sausage and peppers, definitely the better deal) brought underdone pasta in a gummy sauce that needed the traditional cayenne -- or at least some of that chile dip from the spring rolls -- to add the fire that arrabbiata is supposed to have (they need to fix the spelling on the menu, as well as the preparation). And while the herb-crusted lamb loin ($18.95) was a beautiful piece of fork-tender meat coated with thyme, rosemary and oregano, the port wine sauce was bitter and the painfully raw garlic in the mashed potatoes even worse.
Hours: 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Sunday-Thursday; 11 a.m.- 11 p.m. Friday-Saturday
But it was clear sailing for the duck tamales ($12.50), with their silky bits of duck stuffed inside steamy masa dough, all blanketed by a sophisticated, ancho-pumped mole, replete with garlic and wonderfully smooth-textured. This heady concoction was perfect for the tamales and just as addictive adorning the sides of juicy black beans and cilantro-enhanced rice and super-sweet shoestring sweet potatoes. The duck was equally succulent as a seared breast ($12.50); here the port wine sauce, improved with dried cherries, was rich and sweet, a perfect partner for sweet duck meat that had been balanced by cracked pepper. The dead-on flavor combination showed that Rinehart is capable of some very savvy cuisine.
Skydiner's pastry chef, Mike Fulenweider, knows his stuff, too. An order of chocolate soufflé cake ($4.50) brought a moist, cocoa-dusty set of three slices of not-too-sweet chocolate cake set down in a solid crème anglaise, next to a thick slick of housemade strawberry coulis. The blueberry cobbler ($5) had been made with fresh berries, as promised, along with a welcome gratin of granola that added some texture to the blue goo while also providing a nice nuttiness that kept the dish from being too rich.
Still, a few other glitches clouded our meals. The wine list, although it features a well-priced inventory, doesn't match the menu's savvy selections. It seems like two small lists smashed together -- one an intriguing compilation of little-seen bottles, the other a mix of Horse and Ferrari-Carano, with plenty of misspellings sprinkled through both. We also sensed some tension between the front and back of the house. On a dead Sunday night, service lags were blamed on the kitchen because it was "hectic back there" -- making us wonder what it would be like when there were more than four tables. On Friday that same week, a different server blamed numerous minor glitches on "the slow guy in the kitchen."
Clean up those glitches, though, and Skydiner's future looks sunny. In fact, the sky's the limit.
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