Blue frosted light fixtures hang low over the tables. A brushed steel bar undulates along the right wall. Custom-made cushioned bench seating striped boldly in red, yellow, blue and black stands out against the opposing yellow and red walls. In the center of the room is a large saltwater tank with an imperious lion fish swishing back and forth.
The menu is just as surprising. As the decor mirrors, or rivals, any trendy Midtown restaurant, the selections from the menu compare as well (with, ouch!, similar prices).
Peruvian ceviche, tuna sashimi, poached lobster, veal sorrentino, roasted squab and seared filet mignon wrapped in pancetta are just some of the imaginative dishes that show up on the menu at Paradiso's on Jones Bridge Road. But you know you're dining in the 'burbs when the server explains what extra virgin olive oil is.
We were the lone table for an attentive server. After munching on our ciabatta and olive bread accompanied by a pungent tapenade, we got down to business.
We began with a Crab Cake ($11) served over crispy fennel. The lump crab meat was combined with green onions and roasted red peppers and very little breading. The cake, perched on a bird nest of fried fennel, was surrounded by lime beurre blanc and roasted red pepper coulis. Altogether warm, rich and satisfying.
The Insalata Invernale ($7) composed of endive, radicchio, frisse, grapes, walnuts and chunks of gorgonzola cheese tossed in a red wine vinaigrette, mostly contained airy, awkward frisse. However, the sweet purple grapes contrasted nicely with the salty gorgonzola and sour red wine vinegar.
At many restaurants these days, it seems appetizers and desserts are stealing the show from entrees that often lack sufficient punch. Here, the main courses raised the bar. The sauteed Grouper Paradiso ($20) is topped with tomato basil hollandaise swimming with crab meat and several small shrimp. A layer of asparagus provided a nice color contrast and rested on a base of garlic mashed potatoes.
The Veal Chop ($26) beat any I've tried recently. A gravy-like brandy and wild mushroom cream sauce complemented the chop's delicate pink meat. A side of parmesan and garlic mashed potatoes was right at home next to the veal. Glazed carrots were arranged with French string beans as a simple, yet appealing, garnish. Another winner.
With the amount of attention that was paid to the earlier courses, we had to sample dessert. Although the creme brûlée is a house favorite, we opted for the Flourless Chocolate Cake ($6). The rich cake is prepared with a layer of steaming chocolate sauce drizzled over the top of the cake, which sits in a pool of vanilla anglaise with highlights of fresh raspberry and orange sauces. A dollop of whipped cream on the side was sprinkled with raspberries, blueberries and strawberries. I could only manage a few bites, but my dining partner devoured it with a smile on his lips.
Too bad no one else was in the restaurant to see how pleased we were. Paradiso's seems to have it all: top-notch decor; Chef Tom Barkas' imaginative, eye-catching dishes; and a welcoming atmosphere. Now they just need the people to go along with it.
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