Fabi + Rosi is a restaurant that glitters. From the truly inspired interior decor to a menu that shines with beacons of European gastronomy, the restaurant oozes style and taste. The modest Craftsman bungalow belies a dining room sparkling with pretty teardrop chandeliers, delicate hanging tea lights, and antique mirrors that playfully throw light throughout the room. The furnishings, done entirely in black and white, are a tasteful bricolage of antique and modern.
Here diners are treated to European classics such as escargots in garlic butter, moules marinière, steak frites, and paella, all at shamefully reasonable prices. Juxtaposed against the elegant decor, the menu's affordability bespeaks an Old World egalitarianism, as if whispering, in a throaty European accent, "Elegant dining is not a luxury; it is a birthright."
My first meal there lived up to that promise, with a dinner for two that was close to perfect for less than $100, including wine. After a complimentary amuse-bouche of zesty gazpacho, the meal cantered comfortably over to appetizers of house-cured salmon ($8) and a vegetable-and-goat-cheese terrine ($8). The cured salmon was as silky as butter, scented with anise, juniper, and perhaps just a hint of coriander. It was delicious paired with a light fennel salad. But this paled beside the terrine, with its slices of zucchini and roasted tomato artfully enfolding a soft goat cheese, all accented by honey and hazelnut basil pesto. Like a scene from Ratatouille, or more aptly, Proust's Remembrance of Things Past, the dish poignantly evoked clear lavender fields in bloom.
Our entrées of duck confit ($16) and grilled leg of lamb ($21) were equally dazzling. The duck: crisp, salty skin enshrouding tender leg and thigh meat. A twangy balsamic sauce bathing little earthy mushrooms offered well-calibrated balance. The lamb: grilled medium rare, paddling atop a demi-glace, every drop of which was vigorously sopped up by an airy potato soufflé. After a dinner so thoroughly enjoyed, I was in the mood to excuse the lemon custard tart ($6) I ordered for dessert, the flavor of which was good, but its consistency was just a little grainer than it should have been. We sank into the chocolate mousse ($6), on the other hand, as if it were a favorite pillow.
I anticipated my return trip to Fabi + Rosi with longing. I was dismayed, then, that the next visit only faintly echoed the first. The chicken liver pâté ($8) I ordered for an appetizer was admittedly proficient, and I inhaled every drop of it, but what was that little pile of gelatinous curds next to it that reeked of stale wine? The menu called it Gewuertztraminer gelée; I call it unappetizing. The mussels ($9) were artfully steamed until just open, swimming in an irresistible potion of butter, wine, and garlic, but I couldn't help noticing that the bivalves themselves had a faint whiff of Monday's catch to them (it was Thursday).
However, these minor flaws in two otherwise well-executed dishes would have been cheerfully overlooked had not the kitchen committed some serious blunders during the ensuing courses. While the seafood paella ($16) was flavorful, if a little too heavily seasoned with paprika, the pork schnitzel and spätzle ($15) was terrible. The meat was bland, the accompanying mushroom sauce goopy, and the spätzle served alongside it was inexcusably limp, watery, and wholly without flavor.
Worse still were desserts. A grilled peach paired with black-pepper-vanilla ice cream ($7) was underripe and sour (the ice cream was quite delicious, though); the homemade apple strudel ($7) was burned black on the bottom, and the apple filling needed more sugar, leaving the dessert practically inedible.
So it was with bitter disappointment that I discovered that things that glitter are not always golden. But I may still return to Fabi + Rosi because I just can't resist the pretty sparkle, and I'm a sucker for a good duck confit.
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