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Distance Learning

Tough to put your finger on E-City Restaurant and Bar



You get up in the morning and you get dressed. Everything is clean and neat, freshly laundered. Your socks match each other and your outfit. The top matches the bottom. Perfectly good, serviceable, even fashionable clothing that looks just fine on you.

Then you leave the house. And all of a sudden you realize your outfit doesn't feel right. There's a tag that pokes you in the neck or the waist, or maybe the trace amount of wool in the sweater is starting to make your dry skin itch. Something feels bunchy when you sit in the car, or maybe when you walk more than a few steps. You itch and tug and pull, surreptitiously as possible, but you can't work out exactly what the problem is, and it's driving you slowly insane.

That's the best way I can describe how I feel after having eaten at E-City, who's now in Pasta di Solazzi's old space. On the surface everything looks good. The food tasted pretty good. The service varied between outstanding and indifferent. The place looks nice, but it just doesn't feel right.

One friend opined that the space is just so large, it seems overwhelming when you walk in. Of course, it seems even bigger during our Saturday evening dinner because there were only three other tables filled; during a Thursday lunch, only two other tables were filled.

E-City needs a draw. I can't say specifically what that draw should be, but I know that it isn't there yet. While all the food I sampled was good, especially the burger at lunch, nothing was so outstanding that I would feel compelled to drive to the north end of town for it.

Service has been sketchy. On our dinner visit, our waiter offered to take our heavy coats and hang them up. Nice touch. But he never offered a wine list or wine choices of any sort, and when my husband asked what the house Cabernet was, the waiter cheerfully replied, "I don't know. It's from California." The waiter made no move or offer to find out anything more. He seemed fairly indifferent to providing any service beyond fetching and toting. But on a lunchtime visit, with my daughters, the next waiter was incredible. On our way to the table he advised us that there was no children's menu, but the girls could easily split one of the sandwiches. He offered the girls Shirley Temples (and remembered to refill them during the meal), and performed some slight-of-hand magic tricks when he brought the bill. For a restaurant that doesn't cater to children, they sure did a darn good job.

The food, you wonder, what about the food?

The Buffalo Mozzarella Salad with Balsamic Vinegar ($5.75) was tasty, with large, squeaky-fresh slices of mozzarella and sliced red onions. The cook should have opted out of the tomatoes, however, since they were pale, hard and tasteless, or perhaps they could have used cherry or grape tomatoes, which taste fine no matter what the season. And our burgers at lunch ($6.95-$7.95) were very good. The buns were toasted, the meat had an excellent flavor, and mine was juicy even though I asked for it well done. The Monte Cristo sandwich was pleasant enough, dusted properly lightly with powdered sugar. The sandwiches all come with nice homemade french fries, or some really awesome, thick, fat handmade onion rings.

You can choose from a few chicken dishes, like Chicken Marsala ($9.95) or opt for steaks ($19.95-$24.95). Instead, we all chose seafood, since the offerings seemed more interesting. One of the daily specials was seafood in a bold and spicy tomato sauce over linguine. It was a wonderful combination of sweet seafood and peppery, piquant sauce. The salmon ($10.95) was prepared with black peppercorns and sweet corn relish, which I wish there had been more of.

The Swordfish Parmesan ($11.25) was a real treat. The fish was served with a light, delicate, crispy Parmesan coating that sealed in all the juices but added just the merest hint of a crunch. It came with some very good roasted red potatoes, and an enormous heap of garlicked green beans that could have gotten away with a little less garlic. It was a plate overflowing with food -- which made it look all the odder sitting next to the crab cake dinner ($10.95). You get two decent-sized crab cakes (without a lot of breading nonsense taking up space, and with a nice touch of heat) on a small mound of some truly superb steamed garlicky spinach. Those two crab cakes looked positively lonely in the middle of that huge dinner plate. Aesthetically, I think something needs to be added to the crab cakes -- some rice pilaf, perhaps, or just the same choice of sides that the other dinners get (baked, mashed or roasted potatoes, rice pilaf, basmati rice or vegetable of the day).

I didn't sample dessert on either visit, because while there was no feeling of being rushed, there was nothing about the atmosphere that made us want to linger, either. The north end of town could use more brave restaurateurs like the owner of E-City, who are willing to take a chance and offer the residents something besides chain restaurants. And I hope more people will take a chance on E-City.

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