Restaurant Reviews

Luxuriant Lunch

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Trying to decide what to do with my uneaten food, I suddenly overheard at the table next to me a Kilgour and Stanbury tell his Ann Taylored partner: "I haven't cooked three meals since I was married, but I was thinking of starting again. Like what they do here. This is the kind of cooking I really appreciate." Three beats after her hearty agreement, he began chowing down on his order of rock shrimp oreganata.

With that divine signal, I declined a dessert (from a short selection noted for a terrific tartufo) and waved through the gloaming for my check. Suddenly, my original waitress appeared, still smiling, still unapologetic.

"Would you like to take that with you?" she asked, gesturing toward my now-cold entrée without asking why it was almost untouched.

I'd rather wait for Kilgour and Stanbury's first dinner party.

Las Olas Riverfront, 300 SW First Ave., Fort Lauderdale. Lunch 11:30 a.m. till 4 p.m. daily. Dinner till 11 p.m. Monday through Thursday, till midnight Friday and Saturday. Call 954-779-1800.

When is a bargain not a bargain?

When it's too true to be good.

Nothing false about the ingenious promotion started by Max's Grille owner Tony Bisone this spring: $3.99 for any item on the lunch menu. Regular-sized portions and quality guaranteed. So $12.95 chicken "chops" and grilled salmon steaks are now within the price range of Las Olas office grunts who can't afford an hour for lunch -- let alone $15 to $20 per person. You can even throw in an appetizer and, seemingly, get out the door without tanking your credit rating.

When neighbor and high-end competitor Mezzanotte saw that Bisone's business had doubled and then tripled as a result, they copied the idea a couple of months later. So did Johnny Rocket's.

Great for you; great for everyone. Or so it would seem. Six months into his promotion, Bisone's 410-seater in the upper tier of Riverfront is still packed, still noisy, still very dark, and just a little dank.

Of course, Max's was so busy during a recent lunch that only the least gracious patron would have commented. Everyone seemed so ecstatic about the idea of rummaging for $4 items on a menu that featured $8 appetizers (six), $8 to $12 lunch specials (five), and $8 to $10 sandwiches (three) that they weren't bothered that the small table lamps so atmospheric at night were necessary by day. A disco beat was pulsing in the background, the three-for-one drink offer was in full gear, and life was good.

The lunch began with no offer of water from a friendly waiter who may have been trained or who and may have just been given a pad and pen and pushed onto the floor. He brought some watery Cokes before I ordered a warm goat cheese salad with grilled red onions and a partner requested a quesadilla. Both were delivered at a decent interval later by a young woman.

"This the way you want it?" she asked, taking a guess as to who ordered what. After tasting the appetizers (quesadilla burned around the edges, guacamole runny, salad dressing too salty, and grilled red onions pungent with age), we started to see how the $3.99 bargain might carry with it a high price of a different sort.

The original waiter then reappeared, unfazed and unimproved. "You might want to hold on to your forks," he suggested, pushing the appetizer plates he had already removed from the table back at us. "Or I'll bring another one if I have to."

We didn't want him to be overworked. He had those $3.99 entrées to deliver, after all. They were left on the edge of the table within minutes. Chef Ben Wilson's chicken "chop" was advertised as "herb crusted," but the crust was more KFC than herbal, and the "fresh" spinach underneath it hung limp with age (or the effects of a steam table) over a mound of mashed potatoes. The breast of chicken underneath the crust was so large that I began to wonder what chemicals had been used to produce it.

My partner's pasta du jour (choice of chicken or shrimp, regularly $11.95) was penne with a tomato sauce served over cuts of dark-meat chicken. It filled a small platter and could have satisfied Bluto had he not cared that the tomato sauce had no flavor and the chicken cuts were greasy.

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D.B. Tipmore