Granite Cafe

2905 San Gabriel, 472-6483
Mon-Thu, 11:30am-5p, lunch;
6-10:30pm, dinner. Fri-Sat 6-11pm, dinner. Sat and Sun brunch beginning 11am.

Granite Cafe used to be a favorite spot to satisfy my craving for designer pizzas and pastas. But a recent dinner on the restaurant's surprisingly breezy terrace found me venturing beyond the boundaries of Italy, sampling new Asian and Southwestern-inspired dishes. The restaurant's menu still features its fair share of pizzas and pastas, but as I discovered, Granite Cafe, under the direction of head chef Reggie Ferguson, is also a fine place to do a little culinary globe-trotting with Italy, Jamaica, Asia, the southwestern U.S., and the Mediterranean basin all visited on the menu. Ferguson, who was promoted from sous chef to head chef last March (Emmet Fox remains executive chef of the restaurant), has concentrated on providing a wider variety of menu options, adding more game and fish dishes as well as new health-conscious and vegetarian entrées.

My adventure began with a stop in Italy by way of the Chesapeake Bay with an appetizer of sauteed crab and spinach on grilled polenta with a yellow tomato coulis ($6.50). The heavily peppered crab meat, although not hand picked from a fresh Chesapeake Bay catch, was nonetheless sweet and flaky with distinguishable chunks culled from the claw. Under the crab was a mound of garlic-laced sautéed spinach that sat atop triangles of grilled polenta resting in a yellow tomato purée. The polenta was grilled until just crisp on the outside, retaining its creaminess, and the tangy coulis provided the perfect condiment.

Next stop? The Pacific Rim, with an entrée of tea-steamed salmon on organic greens and vegetables with a strawberry-kiwi vinaigrette ($17). Although the featured salmon was a product of the Atlantic, its preparation was 100% Asian. The method of steaming the salmon over tea resulted in a fish that was moist and delicate, although the dish lacked pizzazz. The featured organic greens turned out to be slightly wilted by the fish, and the strawberry-kiwi vinaigrette, while certainly cool and fruity, failed to rescue the entrée on its own.

A better destination proved to be closer to home. An entrée of pork loin stuffed with apples and poblanos and served with roasted red potatoes, roasted corn, and an ancho-lime sauce ($16) was fiery and full of bold, southwestern personality. "Architectural" in appearance, the dish -- actually two generous slices of pork loin between which the caramelized apples and tender poblanos were sandwiched -- elicited "wows" from nearby diners. Granite's rich ancho-lime sauce married harmoniously with the rustic roasted potatoes and corn, and the apples in the mix offered sweet respite from the kick of spice. As I regretfully polished off the last bite of the southwestern delight, my thoughts turned to Dorothy. Indeed, "there's no place like home."

-- Rebecca Chastenet de Géry

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