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Dining early at Friends & Company on a Friday night was a fantasy time for me. It seemed as if I was on vacation. But where? The Swiss Alps? A lodge in Lake Placid? A resort in Bermuda or Barbados? Wooden fans turned slowly in the pewter painted tin ceiling.
The dining room I remembered as kitsch has been stripped of all the old-time memorabilia. Wainscoting, scrubbed wood floors, captains lanterns on the wall, wood filigree window treatment, distinctive black chairs. Viewed through the windows, trees twinkled with tiny lights. The pianist at the baby grand by the doorway offered supper club renderings. At this hour, there was a scattering of solos and a few twosomes. Friends & Co. is perfect for that, A little later foursomes fill the room. The room livens and my fantasy is over. But not before I have a superb dinner.
Friends & Co. Fine Dining. Dinner & Sunday Brunch, the business card reads. Pellegrino seems in order. It is poured at the table into a stemmed glass, half slices of lemon and lime poised on the rim, one to the right and one to the left. As I sip, the lemon and lime fragrances mingled. (Heres a terrific idea for lemonade and iced tea come summer.)
My waitress, sporting a wide tie, looking and posturing like a cast member of Oklahoma, announced the specials. Her long blonde, wispy bangs bobbing in front and a long, blonde pony tail bobbing in back.
My appetizer is a super salad with greens so fresh you might be eating it after a rainstorm in the field where it grew. Thin slices of Anjou pear, chunks of blue cheese, fresh mozzarella and thinly sliced sauteed onions - for the touch that makes all the difference - are a barrage of flavors, perfectly blended.
My entree: A veal chop, with a dramatically long bone, pounded wafer thin, breaded and dry fried. A toss of radicchio, tomato and fresh mozzarella with balsamic vinegar top it. The chop sprawls over the plate leaving just enough space for a few mealy potato wedges and a melange of green beans, halved broccoli florets and zucchini. Blissful dining.
Outside, a sandwich sign lists the specials. Leaning tower of cheesia is the dessert. Here, a crisp, buttery tube of phyllo pastry is filled with a cheese cake blend, halved on the diagonal. The twin towers stand in a flourish of chocolate sauce. It is lovely - a heavenly cannoli.
I return on a Wednesday and am seated facing the windows. Now, on the right, two mammoth white columns flanking a broad floor-to-ceiling mirror extend the dining scene ad infinitum. Four dark haired waitpersons with long, broad ties provide service with charm once more. I had conjectured having the shrimp cocktail - six standing rocket style all in a row on an oval plate. But a mussel with fennel special changed all that. Kudos to the chef. The fennel, shaved on a mandoline, seemed like seaweed amongst the plump mussels. A butter and cream blend sans onion and garlic puddle on the bottom. Snippings of feathery green fennel top it. A number of diners wear bibs. On Wednesdays its lobster for $12.95.
But as a food critic, scallops in black bean sauce needs investigation. Here is an occidental interpretation- smooth, low key barely coating the bay scallops and utterly wonderful with the moist, yet mealy, baked potato. Long green beans, halved broccoli florets and halved zucchini slices marry well with it.
The fantasy is back. Its vacation time. I look at the double chocolate cake set in a heart-shaped whipped cream outline. I resist. I choose between the apple and blueberry crumb pie and an excellent cup of coffee in a smooth, thick white china cup. Friends & Co., you did it again! As I exit, snatching two round mints at the door, the owner, sends me on my way with a cheery, Get home safely.
The Bottom Line
Newly renovated. Fine food. Fine service. Fine setting. Piano on Friday and Saturday evening. Singer on Sunday. A fine spot for friends and company to dine.
Pear and Gorgonzola Salad...$6.95
Rigatoni with Grilled Chicken and Broccoli (in garlic and oil sauce)...$12.95
Steak au poivre (cracked peppercorn crust in light Burgundy wine sauce)...$17.95
Chicken Scarporiello (in a light brown sauce with sausage)...$13.95
Shrimp Mermaid á la Vincenzo (butterfly shrimp wrapped in linguine with a Marsala wine sauce)...$16.95
Setting: Comfortable American
Hours: Closed M. L & D six days plus brunch menu on Sun
Location: Off Northern. Corner Roosevelt & 155th
Credit cards: All major
Private parties: 25 to 75
Takeout: Yes Off-premise catering: Yes
Music: Piano Fri. & Sat. Singer Sun.
Smoking: Separate room
Handicap accessible: Yes
©2002 Community Newspaper Group
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