Two sides of the story

Kres Chophouse is all about atmosphere. Red-and-brown-toned fixtures and sumptuous lighting fill the grand room, creating a coziness that you wouldn't expect. Most of the food sampled was outstanding and caused the "mmmmohmygod" reaction common among foodies. And yet, there was another side to my meal -- one that caused me to pout and make a grab for the cute salt and pepper grinders on the table -- in that some of the dishes were mediocre and underseasoned, so much so that I wondered if there weren't a pair of gastronomic twins working in the kitchen -- one good and the other evil.

One reason for the inconsistencies could be that Kres Chophouse is a restaurant appreciated not for its chef but for that elusive piece in the restaurant puzzle: the property developer. I heard the name Phil Rampy spoken several times before I realized he was not the chef but the well-networked developer. Wanting to give credit where credit is due, I asked the head chef's name. "Chef Tom," the host told me. "What's his last name?" I asked. "I'm not sure," he said. "I just call him Chef Tom." In the spirit of good service, which Kres does deliver, he did offer to find out for me, but not before I asked him who developed the property. "Phil Rampy," was his swift and assured reply.

Looking over the menu, I found the fare to be straightforward with a contemporary Mediterranean flair. My companions and I decided to start our meal with the "grilled lemon garlic shrimp" ($12). This appetizer was a beauty as it came out of the kitchen, a fan of halved shrimp dripping with flavor. We all grabbed a piece and bit down -- crackle, crunch. It took a moment to realize that the shrimp had been halved but not shelled. We spent the remainder of our first course gracelessly fishing shell out of our mouths.

I was thrown into "mmmohmygod" mode again when my second course arrived -- the hearts-of-romaine "wedgie" ($8), a salad of romaine heart covered with creamy Gorgonzola dressing, bacon and tomatoes. My companions were equally enraptured with their crab-and-lobster bisque ($5) and house greens ($6), a salad with goat cheese, endive, beets, walnuts and balsamic dressing.

For the main course, beef Wellington ($32) was my choice -- filet mignon topped with foie gras and wrapped in puff pastry, served alongside mushroom ragout, asparagus and blue cheese au gratin. Though it sounds decadently mouthwatering, it wasn't. The entire dish was swimming in a nondescript reduction sauce and the poor meat was horrendously underseasoned. I was convinced that my Wellington had been prepared by the evil twin.

The mixed-grill ($29) entrée, however, must have been prepared by the benevolent half of the kitchen team. The medley of garlic shrimp, filet mignon and double lamb chops was superb. Of special note were the lamb chops, delicately seasoned and prepared to perfection.

The dessert menu arrived, and I had my usual quandary of deciding between chocolate cake or something scrumptiously new and exciting. Luckily, the "fresh berries Romanoff" ($6) was enticing enough to win out. The confection was served with ripe strawberries, blackberries and raspberries layered between vanilla vodka créme in a showy martini glass. The berries were fresh and juicy and mixed well with the nutmeg-scented cream.

On pretext of ambience alone, I would give the food at Kres Chophouse at least one more try, and maybe a half dozen more if they could get rid of that pesky evil twin in the kitchen.

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