J.P. Manhattan's -- right off the bat, the trendy-sounding name invites a prediction: a singles' bar, friendly young service staff -- "Hi, I'm Chris" -- and potato skins and nachos on the menu.
Not surprisingly, the prediction is right on all counts. What does come as a surprise, however, is that some of the food at J.P. Manhattan's is quite good.
The focal point of the circular dining room, with its well-spaced tables and large bar area, is a raised dance floor that is especially popular after 10 o'clock on Friday and Saturday nights when the D.J. starts spinning top-40 hits.
During the dinner hour, the selection is easy-listening. The handsome, oak interior is softly lit by an unusual but appealing combination of turn-of-the-century brass street lamps and Art Deco-style wall sconces mounted on diamond-shaped mirrors.
It is an attractive setting in which to enjoy some tasty appetizers, such as the potato skins. The five large potato halves come with plenty of cheddar cheese and real bacon.
Better, and not so ordinary, are the lightly breaded and fried jalapeno peppers -- a terrific taste sensation with the spicy hotness of the peppers calmed by a smooth, rich filling of chicken and sour cream. A cool cucumber-and-dill dip can fight the fire, too, if more help is needed.
Another good appetizer, the grilled chicken sate, tasted salty, but was otherwise flavorful and moist. The light peanut and ginger dipping sauce was deliciously addictive.
A less successful starter was the oysters, whose delicate flavor was obscured by a covering of bacon and something called casino mix.
The two soups we tried did not inspire us to try others. The better of the two, the onion soup, had a strong beef and onion flavor, but the melted cheese had the consistency of bubble gum. The Manhattan crab soup tasted of crab, but the tomato-sauce broth held only a few crab fragments.
Judging from a very flavorful filet mignon and a thick, juicy cut of prime rib, beef is one of the strengths of this kitchen.
Also exceptionally good was the blackened redfish offered as a special one evening. Cheers for the chef whose bold use of spicy seasonings on the characteristically charred, meaty fillet made this dish a success.
Other entrees did not reach those heights, but were enjoyable.
One example, the teriyaki chicken, tasted much better than it looked. A lopsided piece of chicken, thick at one end and thin at the other, with an unappetizing, plastic-like glaze, was nevertheless tender and tasty with a sweet soy tang.
A better-looking dish, the veal Marsala, was served with a generous amount of breaded veal sauteed with onions and mushrooms. A zippy Marsala wine sauce stopped just short of overpowering the mild-flavored veal.
Dipping fried shrimp in a sweetened fruit sauce -- as in the raspberry shrimp Manhattan -- is a trend I find hard to swallow. I still prefer my sweetened raspberry sauce on ice cream. Anyway, the fried jumbo shrimp, lightly coated with batter, were delicious sans sauce.
The only dish to miss the boat entirely was the dried-out, overcooked seafood Norfolk. Even if it had tasted fresher, there would have been reason to complain about the skimpy portion.
The desserts, such as the moist cheesecake and the dense and spicy carrot cake, are fairly good. The apple delight, however, needed more spices and the cobbler dough needed more time in the oven.
J.P. Manhattan's is a cut above others of its genre. Not only does it offer a very attractive setting but, if you pick and choose from the best that the kitchen offers, you can enjoy a good meal, too.
Not a bad deal or, in the words of one of the old standards that are played during dinner at J.P. Manhattan's, "Who could ask for anything more?"