Hours: Lunch, 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Monday through Friday; dinner, 5 to 10 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 5 to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 1 to 9 p.m. Sunday. Prices: Most dinner entrees $9 to $12. Cards: American Express, MasterCard, Visa.
To the casual eye, Phineas has all the trappings of the traditional steakhouse -- the ersatz Olde England decor (fake stucco, fake ceiling beams, fake stained glass), the menu that prominently features prime rib in a variety of weights and cuts, the inevitable salad bar. But this place has lately become a closet seafood house, too, with a little blackboard discreetly placed in the lobby listing half a dozen or so seafood specials. And they're excellent -- better, in fact, than what's served in many seafood restaurants.
On one recent visit we had a top-notch mussel appetizer -- a dozen plump, fresh mussels in a good marinara sauce flavored with pepper, garlic, onion and red wine. Considering that a salad bar is available, the portion is big enough for two or three.
The fish has been absolutely fresh, beautifully prepared, and served with an excellent rice pilaf. There has been a first-class Coho salmon, baked so it's still moist and firm and topped with tiny shrimp and fresh mushrooms for a beautiful combination of flavors. (Specify the hollandaise sauce on the side -- a fish that is properly cooked doesn't need all that glop.) On another night there was a very good baked scrod in a simple butter sauce, topped with fresh julienned vegetables.
There's a pasta entree that's good, too, provided that your expectations are realistic. Seafood stuffed shells are nicely cooked pasta cups stuffed with a smooth mixture of ricotta, Parmesan, spinach, shrimp, scallops and crab meat and topped with a bit of marinara sauce. The sauce isn't over-applied and the flavor is pleasingly subtle, but if you're expecting to sink your teeth into solid seafood you've ordered the wrong dish.
Stir-fried chicken with cashews isn't bad, either. The meat's a bit dry, but it's nicely coated with a not-too-sweet glaze, enlivened by whole crunchy cashews and a generous chunk of fresh pineapple, and served with that good rice.
How about the beef? It's very good, generously portioned and fairly priced. It doesn't have a lot of flavor, but that's a problem with most beef these days. The baked potato and popover that accompany the prime rib are excellent.
The salad bar? Very good, too, if not as sumptuous as some. Avoid the blah head lettuce and aim instead for the Caesar salad greens -- good romaine and a decent Caesar dressing that you can spike with the anchovies provided on the side. Have the good pasta salad, too, and the marinated artichoke hearts with mushrooms. Don't overlook the genuine, crusty, rye bread, the impressive cheeses and the fresh melon.
With a salad bar this good, you can forget the appetizers on the menu: creamed soups as thick as gravies, heavy fried zucchini, oily potato skins.
There are several cakes, made elsewhere, including a good, deep-flavored chocolate mousse cake. Or you can build your own dinner finale from the salad bar: Cheese, melon and nuts ought to do nicely.