Herban Renewal

There's a lot more elbow room in the new Kitchen

The night we visited, the soup was cream of celery: sweet, creamy, gently fragrant with its blend of aromatic celery and onion. The salad that followed was the only thing I had to quibble about all night. Made with tossed greens, sliced Granny Smith apples, strawberries, and gorgonzola, it was served with a choice of dressings -- papaya, mango, roasted red pepper, creamy garlic, and maple syrup vinaigrette, among others. I chose raspberry vinaigrette; my dining partner had the creamy garlic. That sweet-tart raspberry dressing, a beautiful magenta color, was just the ticket with the creamy gorgonzola cheese and ripe strawberries. So the salad tasted great, but it looked tired. The greens were just sort of thrown together. The presentation could have been kicked up a notch, and here's where some new salad plates might have really done wonders.

The entrées, though, are always spectacular at Herban Kitchen. We chose both from the short list of chef's favorites. One of Zurlino's tricks is to stuff things, adding extra dazzle and richness. So my fresh, baked salmon filet ($20) was stuffed with a crab cake -- savory-sweet, creamy, and dense. And then the whole thing was drizzled with a dreamy butter, tarragon, and wine sauce. This was just superb; with a handful of crisply sautéed vegetables on the side -- a medley of buttered carrot, zucchini, and cauliflower -- it was pure bliss.

My friend had the pork tenderloin roulade ($20), pork pounded and rolled up like an Italian bracciole -- but this version is turned around a sinful cornbread stuffing, then doused with a sauce of apricots, figs, dates, and brandy. This sublime recipe relies on the condensed sweetness of preserved fruits contrasted with the salty pork and the brandy's alcoholic vapors. You want to beg for the recipe. In fact, Zurlino would be doing all us home cooks a big favor if he'd publish a cookbook. I'd love to try making his apple walnut pork ($18), or his veal Saltimboca ($19).

The rest of the menu draws on a Mediterranean palette, even allowing for a few concessions to dieters who plan to squeeze into those latex disco pants later. You can order a low-carb pasta with scampi, for instance ($19), or get your fish of the day with a low-cal yogurt sauce. These are nice options for a neighborhood café -- it means you can eat Zurlino's cooking a few times a week without having to feel guilty. I suspect he's got more than a few regular customers.

Dessert, as expected, is a luscious affair. We decimated a pear tart ($6.50) composed of poached pears, cinnamon ice cream, pools of caramel, and a flaky, feather-light puff pastry, scooping and twirling that caramel until we'd inhaled every last whiff. The only thing that could possibly top the pleasure of dessert was our total bill: two entrées, dessert, coffee, a couple of glasses of wine, and a bottle of water came to a whopping $70. At these prices, we can afford to come back. And we will.

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