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Cementville's main dining area. (Photo by Mark Greenberg)

Cementville is still missing a few elements

Many of you surely must have studied the periodic table of elements in high school or college chemistry - if nothing else, you might remember that Au stands for gold and NaCl equals sodium chloride (salt).

The designers of Cementville Laboratory+Cafe have studied their stuff enough to come up with some clever (and handsomely designed) elements for the restaurant/bar that has taken over the old Laboratory at the Alamo Quarry Market. Cv is the logo, and the men's and women's rooms are titled elementally. Clever graphics and smart interior design elements (check out the lights over the bar and the snazzy - but, unfortunately, quite uncomfortable - Lucite bar stools) may be the best items in the equation.

The architects of the list have avoided the temptation to get too chemically clever; it is, in fact, laid out in straightforward sections such as "crisp, dry whites" and "light-body reds," which are extremely well-priced. Check out the Plumpjack Cabernet Sauvignon Napa 2000 at $70 or the Caymus Conundrum Napa 2001 at $30, for example. They could offer a few more wines by the glass, but I enjoyed the Chateau d'Arqueria Tavel Rosé (once it warmed up a little) and the Rosemount Hill of Gold Shiraz (despite excessive amounts of oak) at very attractive prices. Beer, by the way, is not currently brewed on site; the stainless and copper vats are temporarily nothing more than mute, decorative dust gatherers.


7310 Jones Maltsberger
11am-2am daily
Price range: $6-39
Major credit cards
Handicapped accessible
I can also heap praise on the french fries. Loads of praise - and I try to never eat the critters. Crisp on the exterior, meltingly tender on the interior, they rock as much as Second Nature, the jazz group I stumbled upon during Cv's first Tuesday jazz night. The fries provide the ballast for the spicy chicken "strips" that are about the only appetizer that seems even remotely, well, less-than-heavy. More like blobs than strips, the chicken is nevertheless extremely appealing atop its bed of fries - and it tastes good, too. But it's not really a grown-up appetizer. In theory, the spinach dip "en casserole" might have been more adult, but the cheesy blend was bland (add pepper from the almost too-clever grinder on the table - remembering to take this hint: Remove the cap first), and the "crusty baguette" slices were flabby beyond any expectation. Have the chips instead.

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Cementville's colorful bar area. (Photo by Mark Greenberg)

The same flaccid bread framed the shrimp BLT, one of those meals the creator has never eaten, I'd guess. The grilled shrimp were spunky enough all right, and the applewood smoked bacon, though room temp, was fine. Good mustard, too. But the sandwich was mostly bread. Add to that more fries, good though they are, and who needs it? A place with the classy, cool look of Cv may seem to suggest equally spare food, but no; the next item sampled was pot roast. Plain ol' pot roast. It can't be seriously faulted - and it was handsomely served with two slabs of Texas toast on the restaurant's characteristically chunky white china. But it's nothing worth driving across town for. Maybe we should have bolstered the roast with a gutsy red such as the Darioush Cabernet Sauvignon Napa.

Looking for a dish with the contemporary chops of the decor on another occasion, I tried the Bronzed Pork Medallions. The trio of puck-sized rounds is served with a boucherie sauce, said to be a roux-based New Orleans creation. It tasted vaguely of filé - or maybe that was the herbal coating of the overcooked medallions. (There was an equally strange, and unidentifiable, sauce atop the meat.) The garlic mashed potatoes served with the pork were good, though - if not really reeking of garlic. And with a little more cooking (and a little more spice), the spicy sugar carrots would be fine, too.

As for dessert, the crème brulée seemed the least ponderous of all the possibilities. I'm usually a fan of crisp, sugar crusts - bien brulée, in other words. But this espresso version was almost all crust; the custard itself might have been one-eighth of an inch thick. The taste was OK, but this isn't rocket science - or even organic chemistry. Just eggs and cream.

But how 'bout those fries? Now that's alchemy. •

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