Hours: Lunch 11:30am-2pm Monday-Saturday; dinner 6pm-9pm Monday-Tuesday, 6pm-10pm Wednesday-Saturday; closed Sunday
What a difference a letter makes. Back in February, Café Allegre chef and owner Kevin Fonzo told me of his plan to renovate the existing space, add tables and a private dining room next door, and adopt a new name. "Something with 'Kevin' in it, to make my mother happy," he said. What he came up with was K Restaurant and Wine Bar. What he has in K is a superb restaurant, one that took me quite by surprise.
People have been saying wonderful things about Café Allegre in College Park for years, something I'd attributed to the fact that there are very few restaurants in the area. On the site of the former Babycakes Restaurant, Allegre opened in May 1997. When then owner Maria Bonomo-Do Pico recruited Fonzo (a Culinary Institute of America graduate) from Atlanta's Phoenix Brewing Co., in 1999, the place turned from casual to upscale. Deep-red walls held paintings by local artists, the wine list expanded, and the menu added ingredients like venison and saffron.
Blame it on phases of the moon, but on every occasion I was there, food was miscooked, substitutions were made without discussion, and service was mediocre.
Well, same chef, same room, but in my recent experience dining at K, the quality of both food and service have skyrocketed. The meal was pleasurable from beginning to end.
A heady mixture of intensely flavored grilled quail ($7) on a bed of mache (a green similar to cress) and a puree of Vidalia onion -- so sweet I thought it was apple -- started me off. The seared scallop with sesame noodles ($6) was perfectly done, but note the singular form -- one scallop, not quite the bargain the quail was. Even a simple house salad of greens and mushrooms was a delicacy, sprinkled with balsamic and the right touch of shaved grainy Romano.
The main courses are seasonal; the menu on this visit featured grouper "picatta" ($19). People passing by the window actually came in to ask what I was eating -- it was that pretty. The slightly tangy pan-seared fish sat atop potatoes whipped with artichoke, and it was covered with a mélange of diced peppers and summer squash. It was exceptional. Equally good, the tender marinated chicken ($14) had its own potato mound, this time mixed with roasted garlic, plus more of the veggies, with a deep herb-flavored gravy.
Even if you loved the old cafe, it's an even better restaurant now. And I'll be back.
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