Dining at Dusk
A Clear View of the Shoreline Grill
98 San Jacinto, 477-3300
Lunch: Mon-Fri, 11am-5pm; Dinner: Mon-Thu, 5-10pm; Fri & Sat til 10:30pm
When people ask me to recommend a restaurant with a good view of the lake where it's possible to watch our famous local bat colony depart in search of their evening mosquitos, I'm always quick to send them to the Shoreline. When pressed to define the restaurant's cuisine, however, I didn't have as clear a picture, until lately. After some late summer visits, I can say that chef Dan Haverty's menu featuring a melange of Southwestern, Asian and Italian dishes and flavors is almost always as reliable as the service and the view.
On some recent lunch visits to the Shoreline, we joined a bustling business crowd enjoying menu selections in the $6-$12 range. For starters, I savored the perfect beginning to a summer meal; the fresh mozzarella tomato caprese ($5.95) is a small tower of grilled bread rounds, fresh mozzarella cheese and sliced tomatoes garnished with chunky olive tapenade and sun-dried tomato oil. One lunch special of particular note was a plate of prime rib enchiladas with green chile polenta and fresh corn salsa ($10.95), toothsome bits of beef encased in wafer-thin corn tortillas napped with an ancho chile sauce, perched atop a mound of creamy polenta barely flavored with green chile. Another day, I ordered the grilled chicken with green chile polenta and charred tomato salsa ($7.25) and could have sworn that both the chicken breast and the sauce were fresh from an outdoor grill, so rich and intense were the fire-roasted flavors. The polenta I wanted to compare to my previous serving was, inexplicably, the goat cheese mashed potatoes.
Sunset outings at the Shoreline not only feature a spectacular view of the departing bats, but an interesting appetizer menu too. We sampled plump, juicy semolina-crusted oysters ($7.75) with a guajillo chile-spiked cocktail sauce and the crowd-pleasing Shao Mai ($5.95) with Thai chile garlic sauce and crisp, tangy pickled Chinese cabbage. In this crab-cake loving town, Haverty's crab cake appetizer ($8.95) is among the best. The lightly fried golden rounds sit in an extravagant puddle of a citron chipotle aioli garnished with a roasted pepper relish. The cakes appear on the entrée menu as well, but I found the citron aioli and the roasted pepper flavors enhance the cakes much more than the overly sweet, thin mango sauce served with the entrée.
Dinner entrées include one of my favorite pork dishes around town, the cornmeal-crusted pork medallions ($14.50) with sweet potatoes, corn, and rajas. In the interest of variety, I also tried some dinner specials and was thoroughly satisfied with a simply sautéed filet of redfish ($18.95) served on a bed of piñon fennel rissotto, one of the most successful of Haverty's fusion dishes. The decadent rice dish is cooked in rich chicken stock and tomato broth to create a creamy concoction, studded with roasted pine nuts and a subtle hint of anise from the fennel. Unfortunately, the second time I ordered this rissotto, it had not been made with the same degree of care and attention and just didn't work. That brings me to my only serious criticism of the Shoreline's food, that the uneven consistency of some of the fusion dishes sometimes results in an out-of-focus fusion confusion.
The best illustration of the problem is a late summer soup special, Serrano Vichyssoise ($3.25). Classic vichyssoise is a creamy cold soup made with leeks, onions and potatoes, cooked and then pureed with creme fraiche, garnished with snipped chives. The first time I ordered the fusion version, it was a refreshingly cold, thick and creamy soup with a faint hint of serrano pepper in the finish, garnished with a squiggle of green pepper puree -- delicious. It was offered again one evening at dinner, same name, same description. The soup we were served was thin and sour, completely overwhelmed with roughly chopped cilantro that had not been in the earlier version. This time there was a touch more serrano flavor and a squiggle of red bell pepper puree. The second soup aroused my curiosity and so I ordered it again another day. The third version of Serrano Vichyssoise was of medium thickness with no serrano flavor. It was accented with snipped chives and garnished with a squirt of balsamic syrup which was completely out of place. Balsamic syrup is a wonderful condiment but it does not complement everything. This experience left me wondering if creativity or carelessness had run amok where the soup was concerned, or if perhaps a standard recipe and presentation technique did not exist.
Creativity and consistency are equally important aspects in the long-term success of any restaurant. The "fusion cooking" trend so popular in this country today encourages chefs and restaurant patrons to be adventurous with their palates and there is nothing inherently wrong with that. However, sloppiness and lack of attention to detail should not be confused with innovation. The Shoreline is a well-run restaurant with professional service and a menu with many interesting and tasty choices. Fine tuning and a sharper focus on details could make it a consistently excellent place to dine. n