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East City Bistro

We had to wait for the salads until after the appetizers, which themselves were a long time coming, without even a piece of bread to tide us over. Fortunately the starters were universally agreeable, particularly "Giani's potato pizza pie," topped with spinach, prosciutto, goat cheese, mascarpone, and Parmigiano-Reggiano -- a rich dish, indeed. The Creole fried oysters were equally worth waiting for, the half-dozen succulent oysters dipped in spicy batter and deep-fried. The shellfish were enhanced with a cool, roasted-corn salsa and puddles of rémoulade.

Utilizing similar flavors as the oysters, the white cheddar/corn/spinach dip made a luxurious topping for homemade tortilla chips. The ramekin of dip had been baked, which allowed it to retain heat and not congeal. We saw the opposite effect, however, in the orecchiette pasta with roasted garlic, broccoli rabe, and Italian sausage, a dish we shared as an appetizer. As it cooled, the sauce jelled into something that could have been used as hair gel à la There's Something About Mary, though the flavors held their own.

The restaurant offers a good selection of sandwiches, including a "knife-n-fork" grilled portobello-and-vegetable focaccia version as well as a hickory-smoked turkey "anti-club" (just two layers). We went wrong with the house "corned" chicken Reuben sandwich; the poultry was as bland and soft as the slightly griddled seedless rye on which it was served. We fared much better with a main course of marinated and barbecued skirt steak that was sliced and fanned over garlic-buttermilk mashed potatoes. The meat had great texture, though we didn't care for the rather gluey potatoes.

Chef Giani Respinto ladels out a third serving of Darrel and Oliver to South Florida
Melissa Jones
Chef Giani Respinto ladels out a third serving of Darrel and Oliver to South Florida

The two other entrées we tried have potential for the future, when the kitchen gets a spatula on things. For instance the flavor of the East City prime rib was wonderful, and the meat itself was juicy. But there was too much fat on it, and the medium-rare I'd requested came out medium-well -- twice. After two failed attempts to get the meat the way I wanted it, I gave up. We had even more difficulty procuring the Mediterranean oven-roasted boneless half-chicken. When our waiter proudly put the plate down, it turned out to contain the other poultry offering, a sautéed breast served over black beans and rice. Correcting the mistake took half an hour. The boneless half-chicken, dry and chewy, then appeared along with the original chicken breast, which was practically disintegrated by that point.

East City Bistro does justice to sweets. Its gooey, gloppy, double-size, macadamia-brittle banana split is a pleasure to share, and its white-and-dark-chocolate-chunk brownie could stop PMS like a bulletproof vest. Overall I believe the high quality of the ingredients, Saucy's recipes, and Broek's experience will prevail. But it would help the clueless staff a great deal if the restaurant started taking reservations. Maybe then everybody from chef to busboy wouldn't be so panicked and rushed, and the customer wouldn't feel so misused -- the exact opposite of how you want to feel after a casual dinner in a friendly neighborhood bistro.

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