If you can get a table, don’t miss the Eclipse Café’s crispy chicken
To get into Eclipse at waxing times, you may first have to get in to Eclipse at waning times: The restaurant accepts no reservations unless you’re a “preferred customer.” How do you get to be a preferred customer? Go early and go often. By spending money you will accumulate points and ascend to preferred status. On the up side, this is simply a more codified version of the slip-the-headwaiter-a-twenty routine.
I personally found the policy a little annoying, but perhaps I was still pissed from the evening before, when we arrived to find the place sold out to a private party. On a weekday night, maybe, but on a Friday?
|The Eclipse Café’s neutral décor plays the straight man to its menu, including grilled yellow-fin tuna with sesame-ginger slaw and wasabi mayonnaise served on a sourdough bun; rueben sandwich — lean corned beef, sauerkraut, Swiss cheese and Russian dressing on grilled rye bread. (Photos by Mark Greenberg)|
I overcame my initial reaction on Saturday night when, arriving at 7:15, there was a five-minute wait at most. Service was equally swift, with barely enough down time to take note of the decor, though it required very little attention: The floors are concrete stained in rustic terra cotta, the walls are neutral, the ceiling is a black spraypaint job, and the furniture is all very simple and very black. That leaves some vaguely classical-looking light fixtures to make the design statement.
The open kitchen and the cuisine that emanates from it carries the day. I bravely began with the pan-steamed mussels with Spanish chorizo, an appetizer that chef and owner Luis Halfant had prepared at his previous restaurant, Luna Blue, and which I had found supremely boring. Here it was almost electric in its gutsy combination of spunky sausage, julienned vegetables, and plump mussels, all in a broth that required more crusty bread for sopping than remained in the basket (the dish comes with toasted bread, but it needs to sit in the broth for a while before it becomes really useful).
In contrast, a dish of pan-roasted wild mushrooms served with polenta and a Port wine syrup was content to be mellow and earthy. The polenta was grainy and creamy, lending an air of authenticity, the mushrooms were packed with woodsy flavor, and the Port glaze was faint yet welcome. The only flaw was the mushrooms’ leathery texture, suggesting over-roasting or under-hydrating. They reminded me of Charlie Chaplin’s Gold Rush, the movie in which he boils a shoe for Christmas dinner. Both the mussels and the mushrooms tended to overwhelm the white wines we ordered by the glass, a Mark West Chardonnay and a Riff Pinot Grigio, but in my defense, I did expect to have finished them before the appetizers arrived. Sometimes, it doesn’t pay to underestimate the service.
A Nero d’ Avila and Pierano’s “The Other” red were both up to the task of anything else on the menu, and that includes rare yellow-fin tuna, a honey-cured double pork chop, and a hanger steak with garlicky spinach and a mushroom bordelaise. We’ll return to try the hanger steak another time, but the flatiron steak we ordered deserves a detour.
|Eclipse Café’s grilled yellow-fin tuna with sesame-ginger slaw and wasabi mayonnaise served on a sourdough bun.(Photos by Mark Greenberg)|
According to gourmetsleuth.com, research teams at the universities of Nebraska and Florida recently developed the steak cut, derived by dissecting the top blade roast or blade chuck. It’s variously said to be tender and tough, but is universally thought to be inexpensive and tasty. The origin of the name is equally the subject of some controversy: Some say it resembles a traditional flatiron, others cite the steakhouse once inhabiting the Flatiron Building in Manhattan, and even the French (who naturally claim to have invented the cut) weigh in with something about the iron-tough gristle that’s removed in the butchering process. In any case, the Eclipse version straddles the line between tender and tough, and its flavor is overly dependent on a masterful Port wine sauce and a minimal crust of rosemary and other herbs. Simply presented with a serving of mashed potatoes, this is a primal plate with some admitted appeal, but it’s not worthy of a pilgrimage.
| Eclipse Café
14439 NW Military, Suite 100
11am-2pm & 5-9pm Mon-Thu
11am-2pm & 5-10pm, Fri-Sat
Price range: $7-18
The oven-roasted crispy chicken, on the other hand, returns Sunday-dinner status to the country’s favorite bird. Moist, oozing with peppery juices, and garnished with cannily complementary potato-filled pirogues, the chicken beats most any in town.
If you’re feeling especially Continental, I recommend a salad as a light interlude. (OK, you can have it before the entrée if you insist.) Halfant is a genius with greens, and the arugula salad with pears, prosciutto and mozzarella, all lightly coated in a lilting white balsamic dressing, only serves to reinforce his reputation in my book. Perfect balance is only one if its many virtues.
It is only reasonable that there should be an Eclipse Moon Pie for dessert — chocolate crème, a shortbread cookie, and marshmallow — but somehow I managed to avoid it. The biting citrus edge of the lemon icebox pie, with its whipped-cream cap, seemed more appropriate, and, eclipsing all other comers, was just what was needed. No eerie twilight, no dramatic penumbra. Just pie. •