Open for lunch 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday, for dinner 5:30 p.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Thursday; 5:30 p.m. to 11 p.m. Friday, Saturday. Closed Sunday. AE, MC, V. Reservations.
Prices: At lunch, entrees from $4.50 to $7. At dinner appetizers $2 to $3.25, main courses $8.50 to $13, desserts $2.50.
"A slice of New York" right off U.S. 50 may be hard to believe, especially at first glimpse of the humble "Stuart's" sign. Then you edge a little closer to Manhattan in the entryway, where the walls are lined
with old movie stills and Vint Lawrence drawings of Roosevelt and Nixon. Once inside, you've arrived in a persuasive replica of the Big Apple. Who would have expected waiters and waitresses in tucked shirts and bow ties, a music combo on weekends and a crowd that begins when most people are turning off the late news--all within a deep breath of Seven Corners?
Stuart's is big-city modern out in the suburbs, with a handwritten menu in the New American mode (Asian sat,e, and Seven-Vegetable Casserole with Italian Cheese wedged between borscht and cannoli) and a short but savvy wine list. There are signs of a shoestring budget: Tablecloths are a bit short and the bentwood chairs should be more comfortable. But if you sit along the walls, near the windows and the framed movie stills--Ann Blyth as a mermaid is a wonderful diversion--you can be pretty forgiving in this fun-loving setting.
Especially if you start with champagne, a good idea here. The Domaine Chandon brut is a mere $14.50, half the price that is charged at some downtown restaurants, and there is a decent French sparkling wine for under $10. Other nicely priced wines allow you to drink well for about $10 a bottle.
And Stuart himself leads the theatrics well, with his waiters and waitresses making an enthusiastic supporting cast who move the plot along without stealing the show from the table conversation.
If only Stuart were in the kitchen. Much is to be done there.
Since prices are reasonable, the menu can be worth a try. You can certainly start with chicken sat,e, inch-square chunks of chicken filling two bamboo skewers with a mild, slightly sweet peanut sauce, for a mere $3.25. Soups are more risky, one day's fish soup being a dull milky broth and another day's mushroom soup tasting of little but cream.
For main dishes there are eight to 10 choices. The safest are the simplest. New York strip steak at $11.50, for instance, is thickly cut and was cooked to crusty accuracy, though it was not of the juiciest quality. An equally good value was a $12 order of lamb chops. The three chops were seasoned with rosemary and cooked perfectly to order, though they would have been much more appealing if their fat were better trimmed. Increasing in complexity, broiled fish of the day was cooked lightly enough, though some days it lacked freshness. Scallops, too, were missing a clean, fresh taste, though their creamy champagne sauce was good in itself--it may have been soupy, but the dish outshone any of the soups. Chicken gets risky. As a special one day it was juicy breast meat mildly and agreeably flavored with red bell peppers. But the ginger chicken on the written menu was a stingy portion that tasted of no seasoning and showed no sauce. It was merely very plain and dry boneless chicken on pilaf seasoned with scallions and ginger slices. Nothing to veer off U.S. 50 for. Then there was the duck: Agreed, the portion was large. And the cherry liqueur-juniper berry sauce was delicious, if sweet. On one visit, though, it was cooked down to a sticky, gummy glaze. The duck at best was crisp-skinned but stringy: at worst, it was a near cinder of meat reheated to a dry crunch.
The vegetables are a commendable attempt of lightly browned zucchini, snow peas, eggplant and the like. The m,elange, however, is a little slapdash and messy. The buttery new potatoes are better. The bread is warm and looks crusty, but tastes pasty.
You might as well throw caution to the wind and end with Chocolate Decadence. It is dense and dark and alarmingly rich, in all rather good. The cannoli is just fair, but heaven forbid you should encourage the maligning of the British by ordering Fruit Compote with English Sauce. The fruit itself is not the issue: English Sauce turns out to be something that tastes like unsweetened sour cream with nuts and dill. They should have served us potato chips with it rather than fruit compote.
Hey, Stuart, look into the kitchen and check on that Anglophobe who is turning your duck into hard candy and your dessert into cocktail dip. We're waiting for The Return of Stuart's.