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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.
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.
Hours: 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Sunday-Thursday; 11 a.m.- 11 p.m. Friday-Saturday
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.