Dressing and feta on the side? Nope.

This is no restaurant for a dieter.

True to form, a recent meal at Cakes & Ale’s new home on Decatur’s town square reconfirmed this. On previous visits,  the kitchen always seemed to choose fat-laden preparations. There might be vegetables on the menu, but they were inevitably sauteed.

Different this time was the sheer obstinacy of this pro-fat position. It was an unpleasant departure from a recent meal at Michael Mina at The Bellagio in Las Vegas. There the kitchen was only too happy to modify dishes to accommodate the dieter.

At Cakes & Ale, the kitchen sent out a server, poorly equipped to do her job well. Though she tried.

The meal started with the usual question: “What is low-fat on this menu?” The server did her best, but she had little to work with. She pointed out the chicken entree (oiled and roasted with skin on), an appetizer of oysters (!) and three fish entrees, none of which used butter, she said. Olive oil, presumably, has ceased being a fat.

Feeling pretty confident about the starters at least, I asked for dressing and feta cheese on the side for a simple, Greek-style salad.

“The chef won’t do that,” she said.

“Then what exactly will the chef do where I can have the dressing on the side?” I asked, with an obvious edge.

Perhaps fearing an eruption, she hurried back to the kitchen to find out. She said that the dressing could be on-the-side for all except the baby eggplant, which were prepared in advance.

Leaving aside the dressing issue for a moment, what arrived was — for $9 — an embarrassment. (Regular readers know I almost never complain about the tab, unless the price-to-value ratio is way out of whack. It was. Somebody’s apparently got to pay for the new digs, and that somebody is us.)

The salad consisted of two or three halved cherry tomatoes, three leaves of leaf lettuce, about two inches from a medium cucumber, a couple small pickled eggplant and an ounce or so of feta cheese.

The lettuce leaves were admirably dry, and there was a portion cup of dressing on the side. But the cucumber and tomatoes had been dressed, and the feta cheese was mixed in as well.

What can we conclude? That nowhere in the kitchen was there a cucumber or tomato that had yet to be dressed? I guess so.

Fish: Not much fat, not much flavor

Trying hard to please, the server said she’d gotten the kitchen to go light on the oil for my entree, a swordfish steak roasted with peppers, onions, artichokes, tomatoes and field peas. The swordfish was nicely cooked, tender and juicy. The field peas were a nice touch, cooked al dente.

What the dish lacked was flavor — either from the fish itself or from any of the other ingredients. Fat lends flavor to food, but the best of chefs don’t use it as a crutch, as seems the case here. They compensate by using plentiful fresh herbs, unusual ingredients or preparations that concentrate the flavors of common ingredients.

These techniques take time and these ingredients are expensive, so one might argue that it’s unfair to compare a humble neighborhood bistro in Decatur, GA, with one of the nation’s top restaurants.

But this was a $27 entree, not a $15 menu item at Red Lobster.

Come to think of it, I’ve had a better fish entree at Red Lobster.

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