February 7, 2006

Cutting Board Café is worth searching out

If I had a dollar for every time my buddy Larry crowed to me about the Cutting Board Café, I could retire and move to Florida. You know how it goes: Someone builds up a movie, album or a restaurant so much that when you finally check it out for yourself it can’t live up to the hype.Co-owner Andris Anton: and sous chef Michael Kahlke operate the Cutting Board Café, which is part Mediterranean restaurant and part bakery. Photo by Brian BohannonBut the Cutting Board lived up to the hype — and then some.Larry and I met at the small restaurant off Westport Road with two friends recently for dinner; I drove right past the place. It’s tucked off to the right of Goose Creek Road next to a tire store and is fairly well hidden. I never would have noticed it if I hadn’t been looking for it.Inside, the décor is part café and, interestingly, part bakery. What looks like a dessert case greets you when you walk in, and a small dining room off to the right is quiet and comfortable, with black tables and décor that features subtle touches of elegance.The menu could be described as Mediterranean, as it features numerous seafood and pasta dishes, as well as a large selection of panini, wraps and salads. Larry suggested crab cakes ($7.95) as an appetizer (he always says they’re the best in town), and we also ordered calamari ($8.95). While the Cutting Board has a decent short wine list, I ordered a Huber Bock beer ($3.25) — a mild, dark ale made by Wisconsin’s Huber Brewing Company. Our server brought it out with a chilled glass.Ordering an entrée at the Cutting Board proved difficult for all four of us; along with the delicious looking selection of wraps ($5.95-$8.95) and panini ($4.95-$8.95), the entrees were incredibly enticing. Finally, Larry and I both ordered the Biscayne Bay Grouper ($15.95), while our friends Jerry and Eric each ordered the Tobago Grouper ($13.95). We also ordered small house and gorgonzola salads ($3.25 and $3.95 each, respectively).Our appetizers came out quickly, and Larry’s crab cake recommendation was warranted. Two tender pan-seared cakes (made with plenty of red pepper) were accompanied by what the menu calls a Pacific Rim sweet chili sauce. Frankly, the crab cakes were delicious enough without the sauce — but the mildly spicy sauce was a nice touch.Meanwhile, the generous helping of fried calamari proved to be some of the most tender I’ve ever had. The tasty calamari also came with a nice chili sauce similar to but not quite like that which was served with the crab cakes.Our salads were also fresh, with crisp greens, cucumbers, carrots and tomatoes. My house salad featured a house spicy garlic ranch that resembled ranch dressing only in its consistency — this dressing had a unique and delicious garlic-infused flavor that pleasantly surprised me. I could have munched on the salad and appetizers all evening and been happy.And then our dinners arrived.The Tobaga Grouper: is served with fresh mangos, zucchini, tomatoes, red pepper, red onion and garlic, topped off with a sweet chili chardonnay sauce. Photo by Brian BohannonI was absolutely stunned to see the enormous portion our server placed in front of me. The Biscayne Bay Grouper was a giant, tender grouper filet dredged in light Japanese bread crumbs, stuffed with crab (which tasted just like the crab cakes) and served atop a delicious and crisp potato prosciutto fritter. The whole thing was covered in a mild and delicious roasted corn and red pepper sauce.The many layers of food made for a number of excellent taste combinations — the sauce complemented the fish beautifully, yet the tender, moist fish on its own was a treat as well. And the fritter was one of the best potato dishes I’ve ever tasted. I didn’t even get close to eating the entire dinner.Meanwhile, the Tobago Grouper that Jerry and Eric both ordered was equally impressive. Covered with Japanese bread crumbs, the fish was served with mangos, zucchini, tomatoes, red peppers, red onions and fresh garlic, along with a sweet chili chardonnay sauce and grilled tortilla wedges. I tasted Jerry’s dinner and found the grouper to be light and mild, and the vegetables fresh and perfectly cooked.All in all, I give my friend Larry credit — he and his wife, Lynn, have “date night” once a week at the Cutting Board Café, and I now understand why. The service was friendly and prompt, the atmosphere was quietly elegant and the food was incredible. Larry said his wife’s favorite dish is the Chesapeake Bay salad — a salad tossed in blueberry vinaigrette with two crab cakes on top. Too bad I didn’t have room. (And I didn’t even bother to look at the dessert menu.)The Cutting Board Café is located at 2905 Goose Creek Road, and is open Tuesday-Thursday, 11 a.m.-9 p.m., and Friday-Saturday 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Major credit cards are accepted, and the dining room is accessible for patrons using wheelchairs. For catering or more info, call 423-9950.BY Kevin Gibsonkgramone@aol.com