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Simple Rituals

Consistent charms define The Margarita at Pine Creek

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When I think of rituals, I usually think of things like weddings and funerals, Bar Mitzvahs, First Communions and dancing around naked under a full moon at Stonehenge. (For those with more prurient interests, I've only taken part in the first two.) But I have a new and important ritual in my life, one developed with two dear friends, and it's as simple and rewarding as life can get.

My two friends and I, all mothers, get together for dinner one night a month. Sometimes we splurge, sometimes we go to one house or another, sometimes we sit in a coffee shop. We look for a place that's comfortable, where the food is good, and where we can sit for hours and discuss whatever is on our minds. We've discussed the tragedy at the World Trade Center, relatives (the good and the bad), breasts (health, size, shape, possibilities of surgically propping them up for one last hurrah), aches and pains real and imagined, children, husbands, the institution of marriage, food, cigarettes, dreams, books and more. Anything goes.

One of the loveliest evenings we had was dinner at The Margarita at Pine Creek. The atmosphere was calm and serene, the service was fantastic, and the food was something to write home about. It wasn't one of our more frugal nights, but the amount of food for the price we paid was exceptional. If you've never visited The Margarita, dinners are a set price of $27, except on Saturdays when the dinner is more special and the price is $32. However, the price includes an appetizer, a soup, a salad, an entree with accompanying side dishes, and dessert.

The logistics of ordering at The Margarita are simple. Every night you have the option of choosing one of two appetizers, one of two entrees, and finally one of two (or three) desserts. (You just have to trust them when it comes to the soup and the salad; they will not let you down.) There's also a Southwestern menu option, which makes things even simpler, because the entire menu is set. Usually at least one of these options is fish or fowl, and if you call ahead and give the chef notice, you can have a complete vegetarian meal.

We enjoyed bruschetta for our appetizer, and it was so far above and beyond anything else I've had by this name that I fell in love at first bite. Homemade bread was grilled, then topped with rich, ripe chopped tomato laced with slivers of fresh basil and just enough melted cheese to hold the whole thing together. The Southwestern appetizer was a small chicken enchilada, with moist chicken in a flour tortilla, covered with a pungent red chili sauce that wasn't too strong or too earthy. This was followed by a broccoli bisque that almost defies description. Creamy but not too heavy, it had just a suggestion of earthiness that suggested a little potato in the green-flecked base. The Southwestern soup was a posole, full of tender nuggets of hominy and tender, slow-cooked pork. A bowl of either of these soups with some bread would have made a perfect meal all by itself. The salads are impeccably fresh greens, topped with a classic French vinaigrette with a hint of tarragon, or dressed with a sweeter, smoky honey-chipotle dressing.

The pace of the meal is leisurely, so you'll have a minute or two to rest comfortably before your entree arrives. Trust me, you'll want to be sure you've saved room. When we visited, the Southwestern entree was a tilapia covered with a rustic salsa full of tomatoes, sweet onions and Kalamata olives. The two other entrees were steak and roasted pork loin. I know I tasted the steak and thought it was tasty, but I was so glutinously in love with my own entree that wanderlust was impossible. The pork was perfect, tender and juicy, and was served with a large serving of the best applesauce I've ever tasted in my life. It was homemade, of course, studded with dried sour cherries that had been slow-cooked along with the apples, and the flavor combination was sweet and tart, a perfect foil for the richness of pork. This was also accompanied by steamed baby asparagus and some squash that was so tender and sweet I'm sure the preparation must be illegal in some states. The waitress told us that winter squash is sliced and baked, but before it goes in the oven, it's covered with butter and brown sugar. Beta carotene never tasted so good.

You can also enjoy a leisurely lunch at The Margarita (because a rushed lunch here would be a serious mistake). Lunch is $8.25, and your first option is to have all you like of two soups, a tossed green salad with a sesame dressing, freshly baked wheat bread with homemade cheese spread, and cake. They also offer a Southwestern option, which varies daily, and comes with either soup or salad. They also offer a large chicken salad plate, with marinated chicken and marinated vegetables on a bed of lettuce. You can still enjoy the patio while this Indian summer holds, although the interior promises to be cozy no matter what the weather.

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