Monday, December 29, 2008

Cafe 4 ... living up the the hype of "New American" cuisine

The case could be made that I am extremely critical of Knoxville. I am. There is so much potential for hipness, much of it unrealized or at least under-realized in places where that is unacceptable. Market Square is a perfect example; there are three restaurants residing there which disappoint me because I want them to be as could as they could be: Trio, Tomato Head, and La Costa. I've had really good meals, and meals varying from perfectly mediocre to out-right bad at all of them. What's worse is that each time I go back to any of those three my prior angst is only reinforced when what I want is to be proven wrong!

Luckily the newest addition to Market Square does not fall into any of the traps that have so colored my view of food in this fair city. Cafe 4 completely satisfied with impressive portions, quality food, and amazing looking deserts. Before I rave about the menu, note one thing: every dish can easily serve two, maybe three if anyone is watching their diet! We were astounded by the size of the portions, and we weren't alone if the looks of surprise on other diners' faces were at all telling.

The meal started with french fries with parmesan and truffle oil from the appetizers menu. If you can't tell from the photo, that plate could easily replaced an entire meal for me and I am a potato monster. I honestly believe I could live on frites alone and I was astounded by the portion delivered. The potatoes themselves were slightly oily but absolutely delicious. They even possessed a property I've never found in fries before: as they cooled slightly they became more flavorful as the truffle oil became more apparent. The mayonnaise dipping sauce with which they arrived is unidentified on their menu and by the staff (and I forgot to ask) but is also delicious.

Food service was a tiny bit slow so we had to fight our instincts to devour every single fry on the plate before lunch arrived. When the food arrived, perfectly hot and ready to be enjoyed thoroughly, a few fries remained by some miracle of discipline.

The wife ordered the meatloaf sandwich (with BACON! naturally) with fries while I ordered the fried pork tenderloin sandwich with a light salad (below). Neither of us expected what we were to discover: if you order an entree you will almost certainly not order dessert! My pork tenderloin was so large it almost made the teeny-tiny bun above and below comedic. I almost never eat anything breaded and fried and didn't think through, or bother to ask, how this sandwich was prepared. I assumed, for no good reason, that I'd be getting pork tenderloin medallions lightly fried and on a small sandwich. Instead, as far as I can tell, I received an entire tenderloin fried to perfection. None of this is meant as a criticism at all as the dish was a complete success, but even after I cut a large portion off to stick back inside the bun and eat like a proper sandwich, half of it is now in my fridge for a Christmas eve lunch . The wife took my lead, or maybe I took hers, and cut her sandwich in half. Hers was a very moist chunk of meatloaf which contained roasted peppers by our guess and was scrumptious with the perfectly fried bacon. After the opening portion of fries hers went a bit unattended but we were assured they heat up well later!

After having stared at the espresso machine in the front I really looked forward to ending the meal with a perfectly pulled shot but alas, the machine is not up-and-running, but the waitress suggested a cup of coffee which is brewed from Golden Roast beans in their own custom blend. The coffee was not as strong as I might make it, but stronger than any coffee I've had in a restaurant in Knoxville and was perfect after the huge meal I had just ingested.

The wine and beer list are quality and not outrageous in cost, but since we had plenty of chores to do later today we both skipped out. Certainly in the future we will indulge in a glass or two of wine or some good American craft brew before an amazing dinner and dessert session.

Service was good if a bit slow. After having talked to several friends who have also gone, we're all assuming this is still opening jitters and that should get worked out. The only other real criticism is that the hostess is on the other side of a fairly imposing entry-way from the door into the cafe and it's not clear where one should stand to get seated quickly. I assumed it was me but there were several parties all staring at each other in the entry way hoping we'd get service. This will certainly get worked out soon.

Since it is extremely cold right now the gorgeous patio is empty, but during the summer months it will be a perfect place to sit and enjoy a Wittekerke or a nicely chilled glass of Rosé while people-watching or watching one of the bike races around the square.

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