Crossroads' Secret Revealed
Pssssst... Don't tell anyone, but Restaurant 211 is one of the hidden charms at the Crossroads Shopping Village.
Thursday, June 7, 2001
Restaurant 211 had been bouncing around in my head for a while--I think I'd read about it in one of the other papers, or I'd heard about it in the restaurant grapevine, or I'd seen the commercial on television. Whatever the reason, it caught my attention. Then, a couple of weeks ago, I ran into Jon (pronounced Yahn) Magnusson, chef and owner of 211, while he was out trying to drum up interest in a wine dinner he was doing with Ridge Watson and Joullian Vineyards. I made a mental note to check this place out.
Restaurant 211 is open for three meals each day (for now) and it's open seven days a week. Knowing it is a small place in an out-of-the-way location, I pictured Jon spending every minute of his life there, toiling away, nose to the grindstone (ouch), cranking out meal after meal of lifeless, cooking-for-a-living type dishes. I couldn't have been further from the reality.
Sure, Jon works his assemblages off, but he has a strong assistant in the kitchen that enables him to drift out to the front of the house as well as take the occasional shift off. In fact the night that the Three Stooges met Abbott and Costello for dinner at Restaurant 211, Jon and his wife, Carmen, were down at Lugano's Swiss Bistro in the Barnyard, doing the polka and partying.
It was the beginning of the Memorial Day weekend, so locals were all out of town or hiding from the incoming wave of tourists. Because most of Restaurant 211's business is local, the place was empty when we arrived for our 8:30pm reservation. My immediate fear in a situation like that, especially in a restaurant that serves breakfast, lunch and dinner, is that the staff, bored and ready to go home will both rush you in and out and take short cuts with the food and the service. Again, my fears were unfounded.
Magdalena, our wonderful waitress, made us feel at home--homey is an easy adjective to use with this joint--as we settled in to the intimately lit, clean and cheerful establishment.
Baskets of warm little rolls shaped like jumbo fingerling potatoes and hand-carved roses of butter quelled the five fugitives' famine. Costello, resplendent in his leather jacket and chic eyewear, and Abbott, a.k.a The Dean, ever professorial-approaching regal, led the assault upon a grand Goat Cheese Crepe and a commanding Carpaccio. The Crepe, which was filled with cheese and scallions, was accompanied by fresh greens, sliced tomatoes and caramelized walnuts dressed in basil vinaigrette, literally offered no resistance to the fork. The flavors were delicate and beautifully balanced. The Carpaccio, marinated paper-thin slices of beef topped with capers, red onions and parmesan cheese was especially pleasing. Unlike some Carpaccios (carpacci?) that have a chewy, too gamey texture, this one gave the impression of air-cured meat--slightly dry and pungent with great texture and flavor. We loved it. The only problem with the appetizers was that we didn't order the Mushroom Cappuccino. Go there, read the preparation, try it, then call us idiots for not ordering it.
With vintage Julio Iglesias (one of God's many gifts) singing to us, we received house salads. They come in cute bowls; romaine lettuce, sliced carrots, green olives, a little of this and a little of that with just the nicest vinaigrette you could ask for. It seems creamy, but has no cream or egg--must be an emulsion (look it up)--and is the perfect dressing for this simple, yet wonderful little salad. Costello called it "weed-free salad." Apparently the now typical frisee and more wild lettuces upset him.
Our bottle of Adelaida Chardonnay (Paso Robles) had long since drained and we smoothly swung into the magnum of Domaine Carneros Pinot Noir, which I had supplied. The table conversation was upbeat and anticipatory. It turns out that between the five of us, three had ordered the Swordfish Special and two of us--Abbott and myself--had ordered the Braised Lamb Shank. Obviously, this group was more interested in personal gastronomic satisfaction than in scholarly research.
The swordfish, broiled and served on a mound of mashed potatoes that were light green in color from basil and delicately cheesy from Parmesan (that is a guess from Curly), was absolutely grand. Singing serious harmony were Portabella mushrooms, a stupendous lobster sauce and a chorus of delectable, perfectly cooked green beans, baby squash and asparagus.
The Shank--oh, the shank! I do believe that when that Great Waiter in the sky asks for my final meal order, it will be some type of braised meat. This one, a hefty lamb shank in a sauce of Merlot, blue cheese and sun-dried cherries, with accompanying garlic mashed potatoes and that lovely vegetable chorus, had The Dean and me exclaiming to ourselves and anyone within earshot. In fact, the usually reserved gentleman pontificated: "This place makes you want to explore the Crossroads Shopping Center, with its generous parking spaces, the cute stores--211 is, thus far, the best kept secret in the Crossroads."
Monday morning, Labor Day; Sweet Thing and I decide to take in breakfast (well, actually lunch--it just happened to be our first meal of the day). Back to 211. House salad between us. Just get it. It's perfectly dressed with the dressing it should have--fresh, crunchy, delightful.
Under "Small Matters," Ms. Thing had the Petit Nepenthe (4-oz. hamburger steak). She loved the option to order a smaller portion. Perfectly cooked, in a crescent-shaped roll, with an elegant tarragon mayonnaise, a fresh tomato and leaf of lively lettuce, the burger was cooked to perfection and housed a multitude of flavors.
I had "The Crossroads Clubhouse" (turkey, tomato, avocado, cheese, lettuce, bacon and mayo); great combo, it worked, as do virtually all the dishes on this fairly priced menu of well-thought-out items with interesting little twists and turns. After having eaten in as many joints as I have, you get a feel about them. This one feels right.
Restaurant 211 is located in the Crossroads Shopping Village, Highway 1 and Rio, Carmel, next to Kincaid's Bistro. They're open for breakfast, lunch and dinner every day. For more info, call 625-3030 or visit their Web site: www.restaurant211.com