My love for Doriola's as a lunch spot is well-documented. It's an unassuming little cafe with a lock on perfectly prepared but simple food. They feature well-balanced, toasty sandwiches, rich, flavorful soups and a perfect cloud-like quiche that would easily make it onto my "last meal" request. My only complaint? Limited hours.
Lunch at Doriola's is only served during the week. Personally, I don't subscribe to the belief that you can have too much of a good thing. If that good thing is soup? You can't have too much soup.
So I was excited to learn that they now offer dinner on Fridays and Saturdays from 5-8 p.m. Excited, but with a bit of trepidation. I love a restaurant that knows its strengths and doesn't overshoot. I worry when a kitchen tries to do too much. But a glance at the menu was reassuring. It is limited in size and scope: only four appetizers, two salads and four entrees. Like their lunch, the menu offers straightforward comfort food with a touch of refinement — a kind of culinary Americana.
I invited my friend Carly, a former ADN food writer, to check it out with me. She has a few dietary restrictions and was impressed that seven out of the 10 menu items were gluten free.
While we were musing over our dinner choices, our server brought us two tiny corn muffins accompanied by a little ramekin of soft honey butter — a welcome departure from the usual bread basket. The muffins were perfect — lightly sweet, and not too dry. But let's face it, I would cheerfully eat Styrofoam packing peanuts if they were served with honey butter.
We decided to begin with the steamed clams ($8.50) and the pimiento cheese and shrimp grits ($8.50). The clams were fine, but unremarkable. They were heaped in a small bowl, which made it difficult to get to the broth below it until half of them were gone. And the broth itself was a little bit flat. It was briny and clean-tasting, but it seemed to be missing the buttery element (or cream or olive oil) that makes steamed seafood so delicious.
But the pimiento cheese and shrimp grits were heavenly. I've always had a fractious relationship with grits. They appeal to me on the menu, but on the plate they're often a stodgy, gloopy affair. These grits erased all of my disappointing grits-related memories. Creamy, silky and perfectly seasoned, the dish was rich without being heavy. The shrimp were cooked to a perfect firmness with a hint of smokiness from the grill. I resented having to share these. On my own, I would have licked the bowl.
We decided to share two entrees and opted for the beef tenderloin with blue cheese pepper butter ($22 for an 8-ounce, $32 for 16-ounce) and the rack of lamb with garlic, thyme and honey glaze ($26 for a half-rack and $36 for the full), opting for the smaller size of each. This was a good decision because the portion sizes were more than ample. This was also a bad decision because I would have been glad to have leftovers to bring home. And no, I would not have shared them with my dogs. (Sorry, Jasper. Sorry, Kipper.)
Both dishes came with a side of garlic mashed potatoes and the vegetable of the day. On this occasion, the vegetable was an herbed, cheesy corn, which, while delicious, made for a bit too much starch on the plate. I was yearning for a green vegetable (not a sentiment I often express) and in hindsight would have ordered a salad to better balance my meal.
The steak was cooked to a perfectly juicy medium-rare and had an appetizingly charred exterior. However, the Gorgonzola-based compound butter was, for me, too intense and it overwhelmed the flavor of the tenderloin. It's not that I wanted less sauce. Rather, I wanted a milder cheese-to-butter ratio in the sauce. But this was a minor problem that I solved, MacGyver-style, by scooping some of the butter mixture onto my mashed potatoes. Everyone won. Especially the potatoes.
The rack of lamb was flawless. Tender, buttery and beautifully cooked to a rosy pink, the subtle honey notes in the glaze brought out the natural sweetness of the meat. The garlic and thyme were present but subdued, allowing the lamb to be the star of the plate.
Service and decor were, like the food, comforting and unpretentious, and there was a conviviality between the diners and servers that suggested Doriola's feeds a lot of regulars. And if those shrimp and grits stay on the menu? I'll be one of them.
Hours: Lunch menu served between 9 a.m.-3 p.m. Monday-Friday; dinner from 5-8 p.m. Friday-Saturday
Location: 510 W. Tudor Road, #7
Contact: 907-375-0494 and doriolas.com