Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Details, details: Bright new eatery has some work ahead

Posted on Wed, Jan 5, 2011 at 4:00 AM

Release Date: 2011-01-05

Nestled in the maze of shops that comprise the recently remodeled Artisans Alley off Bitters sits The Pomegranate, a new casual dining restaurant that beckons to hungry shoppers. The Pomegranate offers diners tantalizing food combinations — a grilled gruyère and ham sandwich and the Portuguese panini with prosciutto and port-soaked figs are just two examples of ambitious pairings.

The atmosphere is welcoming and contemporary, effectively utilizing colorful art and bright walls. Pomegranate had quite a lunch crowd on a recent Monday — my friend and I were seated at a table near the patio, which made for a nice view on a drizzly winter day.

Our server approached us right away, bearing cranberry-pistachio bread and butter. I was excited to try the pomegranate iced tea, but my enthusiasm was washed away with the first swallow. It is a very dark, strong tea, and the pomegranate flavor was hard to detect in its heaviness. However, the liquid coming from the pitcher was several shades lighter three refills in and was more tolerable in its diluted version.

I ordered the pulled pork panini with a cup of Nancy’s Mom’s chicken tortilla soup, and my friend had the crepes with cream of tomato basil soup. The soups came out first, both wonderful choices given the weather. The first bite of the tortilla soup reminded me of French onion soup, but the flavors worked. Melted cheese and crunchy tortilla strips floated above meaty pieces of white chicken.

I had tried the pulled pork panini before and couldn’t wait to enjoy it again, recalling its chipotle mayo, Texas slaw, and sliced avocado. But there were some slight differences this visit. The pork seemed a little dry and lacking in flavor, and I remembered the sandwich as having more substance. It also could have used more of the chipotle zing, as I could still see dry patches on the bread.

While I tried unsuccessfully to attract our server’s attention, I tried my friend’s crepes — a comforting medley of chicken, mushroom, and spinach, topped with a sherry cream sauce. The wonderful flavor of the dish was only compromised by the fact that it came out lukewarm.

At last, dessert. We decided on the chocolate espresso torte and the mascarpone cheesecake with pomegranate sauce. We were disappointed soon after diving into the torte. The flavor was almost there, but the texture was that of dry cake. The cheesecake was fabulous at first blush, but turned out to be too cold … frozen, to be exact. The first bites were very cold, but when the fork could no longer penetrate the dessert, the truth was undeniable.

Overall, Pomegranate provides some choices you can’t find easily elsewhere, and offers a cheerful setting in which to enjoy them. But watching those refrigerator settings and paying attention to the details would pay off for this new operation.

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