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Happy Cafe

Felice dishes out the food and the smiles

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I'm not sure why it'd taken so long to get to Felice Urban Café, especially since I've heard such resounding positive reports about its charming décor and sophisticated menu. I can already tell you it doesn't disappoint on either front.

Each visit, we dined in different areas of the restaurant. The first night, we enjoyed a window seat on the front porch. The windows were decked out in Christmas lights. On our second visit, we requested a table in their inviting dining room. The Victorian home has some grand-looking columns throughout the lower level and a gas-burning fireplace in what was once the living room or parlor. It was trimmed with fresh Christmas greenery throughout; the warm wreath on the front door and festive garland on the mantle did not go unnoticed. There's also an upstairs bar and the closed-for-the-season patio, which is a popular summer pit stop.

Unbeknownst to us, Felice runs a three-course special every Wednesday – any appetizer, entrée and dessert from the entire menu. The only exception is the oysters' appetizer. But if you have your heart set on oysters, as we did, Felice will merely charge you a two-dollar upcharge. However you do the math, you're either getting an appetizer or dessert for free.

Over the course of two dinners, we enjoyed several appetizers – the most surprising of which was the pan-roasted sardines. Trust me, sardines are rare in these parts. I loved the balance in this dish. The super-rich-in-omega-3 fillets were adorned with tomatillo sauce, fennel salad and chili oil. The Atlantic Blue Point Oysters with ginger mignonette were a briny delight, as well. While the execution of the grilled octopus was good, they were slightly dry, just a tad overdone – something I could never say about my quail legs. They were cooked to perfection. I had to wait a while for them to show up from the kitchen, but given a choice, I'd rather wait than eat undercooked poultry.

On our first visit, we shared the Brussels sprouts as a salad course. Sandoval goes with Serrano ham rather than the ubiquitous pancetta. The Marcona almonds also add something new to this popular side dish.

One of my favorite dishes is linguine and clams, a simple plate that has nevertheless disappointed me several times. Not here: I appreciated the expertly cooked bucatini and tender middleneck clams. Having declared his preserved lemons "the best in town" at Fat Cats, I was thrilled they were in this dish. The surprise addition of rosemary also worked. I say "surprise" because they failed to mention it on the menu, and it's a big part of the flavor structure. Across the table, there was hardly a word from my partner. When he offered me a taste of his seared yellowfin tuna served over cannellini, I knew why: it was perfect.

On a second visit, I opted for the scallops' entrée, which was served over a creamy soft truffle polenta. The olives were not mentioned on the menu. Surprising, considering people either love or hate them. The scallops were topped with just the right amount of black olive tapenade. Olives are bold – not a subtle ingredient. Yet, they didn't overwhelm the subdued scallop or the mild truffle flavor.

My dining companion zeroed in on the eye-appealing pappardelle lamb meat sauce, with wider-than-usual pasta. Which he enjoyed -- once it came. He insisted I start eating my scallops while they were hot. I was halfway done when his dish was served. Considering it came perfectly hot, my guess is it's not a service issue. Actually, you'd be hard-pressed to find a harder-working staff.

Considering we went twice and desserts were included in the special Wednesday-night offer, we sampled all four offerings. Since we rarely order dessert, I feel especially proud to say we enjoyed their entire dessert menu.

Tied for tops: the apple cobbler and bananas Foster. The fallen chocolate cake and crème brulee were delightful, too, though a slight notch below. The brulee had a flawlessly crystallized caramelized topping, but it could have been a bit denser. Again, only off by degrees, nothing major.

Three of the four desserts came with vanilla bean ice cream – sort of desserts' version of "top it with an egg." The good people at Felice obviously want you to go "a la mode."

I failed to mention a couple of well-mixed cocktails: The David Bowie fan in me zeroed in on the Ziggy Stardust, made with Patron Silver, St. Germain, Campari and fresh grapefruit, and lemon with a sea salt rim. Bowie has never steered me wrong. When it comes to cocktails, I'm a sucker for citrus flavor, and the Lemon Jenny, a vodka drink with St Germain and fresh lemon, had just the right amount of tang. They also offer a well-balanced variety of beer and wine, too.

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