Wednesday, January 31, 2007

No. 37 rewrite

Marigold’s Stars Keep Shining

Marigold’s Café and Bakery has long been a linchpin in the independent restaurant community. I was reminded why on a recent visit there for lunch. Although I arrived at noon, the restaurant was already full. The short wait gave me just enough time to torture myself at the dessert counter—after too much holiday cheer, I had sworn off sweets. You might ask me: why, then, was I at Marigold’s, a café and bakery? More on that later.

The lunch menu ($6.99 to $10.25) is straightforward on its surface—pizzas, sandwiches, soups and salads. But as soon as you dive into the fine print you are rewarded with both standard fare, like Reubens and hamburgers, and more rarified offerings such as muffuletas and curried chicken pockets. Their French onion soup is the best in town, topped with a thick slice of Gruyere cheese served bubbling hot. As much appeal as I found in that daily menu, the Specials of the Day delivered what I was looking for: a substantial meal at a great price ($9 to $12) that went above and beyond plain lunch. From the choices of Blackened Prime Rib, Quiche Lorraine, Jambon Madeira and Mahi Mahi, I knew immediately that the Mahi Mahi ($10) was for me. My server confirmed it was an excellent choice, served with field greens dressed in ginger orange vinaigrette. I ordered a house chardonnay, reasonably priced at $4.75, and turned my attention to the restaurant.

Lunch can be a terrible time at a busy restaurant. Diners are all in a hurry and they all arrive at once. The pace at lunch can so overwhelm the wait staff that all the niceties associated with fine dining are flung out the window as the plates are slung onto the table. Not at Marigold’s. Even though the place was packed, I never felt hurried nor did the servers seem rushed. The dining room hummed with conversation. I had time to sample a wheat baguette and appreciate the chardonnay before my fish arrived.

One thing Marigold’s knows is that presentation is key to an enjoyable dish. This plate arrived with two golden brown slices of pan seared Mahi Mahi resting aside a mound of field greens, chopped red onions, white mushrooms, tomato wedges, and crumbles of goat cheese. The fish was succulent and the portion ample for a lunch entrée, its flavor sweet and enhanced with just the smallest bit of seasoning. The field greens were fresh and crisp. But the best thing about the salad, for me at least, was that the ginger orange vinaigrette added just a whisper of sweetness, balancing the tart goat cheese and the tangy red onions. And when the salad was gone, so was the dressing. No puddle of oil here!

When my server suggested dessert, my thoughts ran back to the dessert counter: raspberry tarts, tiramisu, carrot cake, strawberry Frasier (two layers of white cake engulfed by pastry crème and fresh strawberries—beautiful), and my all-time favorite, triple chocolate mousse cake. It seemed traitorous not to order one of those, diet be hanged, so I sacrificed the mousse cake and ordered a chocolate éclair. It just missed earning a standing ovation.

The éclair pastry was perfect, airy but firm and not dry. The filling was thick and creamy as crème brulee and smooshed perfectly out the sides as I cut into the éclair. But the chocolate on top, while tasty, crumbled when I cut it instead of clinging to my fork.

Was it only coincidence? Just as the chocolate crumbled from my éclair I heard a dish shatter in the kitchen.

Overall Rating: 3.5 stars (4 is perfect)

Location and phone:

4605 Centennial Boulevard



Open Mon. through Sat., 7-10 a.m. for breakfast; 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. for lunch; 5-9 p.m. for dinner. Dinner reservations accepted.

Major credit cards accepted. Dress is casual.


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