At Gallatin's, in the year-old Radisson Mark Plaza Hotel, the message is "Eat American." Just reading the menu can take you on a gastronomic tour through the states with items such as Florida grouper, Virginia lamb, Wisconsin duck, golden California raspberries or Alaskan salmon.
Patriotism can be pricey, however, with most entrees in the $15 to $25 range. So what else do you get for your money?
In the quietly elegant surroundings, diners are treated to live piano music nightly. The generously spaced tables are beautifully set with gold-rimmed cover plates, each with a different bouquet of vegetables painted on it. To quench your thirst, bottled spring water from Hot Springs, Ark., is dispensed from ice-filled champagne coolers.
There are many other special touches to impress you -- cold salad forks, silver covers for the entrees, special coffees ground and brewed tableside, an after-dinner brandy and cognac cart.
Special care is taken with each dish to create an artistic and colorful presentation. Sometimes the effect is whimsical: two scallop rounds centered with a small amount of black caviar looking like eyes above a broad "mouth" of salmon strips, or the lemon mousse cake looking like a mouse with two large strawberry halves for eyes.
The taste, however, did not always measure up to the appearance.
Some of our best choices were the starters. The Alaskan salmon, cured with pastrami spices, had a zestiness that nicely complemented the soft, smooth texture of the fish. Another innovation, Kansas City sushi, featured strips of raw beef wrapped around matchstick slices of red and yellow peppers, carrots and delicate straw mushrooms. The accompanying red-wine-and-mustard sauce was superb.
Not quite so unusual, the lightly sauteed mixture of wild mushrooms in three boat-shaped tarts was overshadowed by a coarse sauce of fresh tomato and basil used as a garnish. The miniature crab cakes of finely shredded crab were moistened with an enjoyable dill sauce.
Three tasty but different soups showed the kitchen's versatility. My favorite of the three had julienne vegetables and delicate herbed dumplings in a clear broth.
On the other hand, the disappointing Boston clam chowder, offered as a special, was surprisingly sparse on clams and had only a few irregular cuts of potato.
A couple of blackened seafood specials arrived minus the customary blackened exterior and intricate spicing, but were otherwise nicely done, especially the scallops.
The entree that best captured the innovative skill of the kitchen was an unlikely pairing of steamed freshwater bass wrapped in spinach leaves with the licorice flavor of an absinthe-butter sauce. Unlikely, but it worked.
Unfortunately, a number of other entrees were not as carefully prepared. The stuffed veal was overcooked, and three grilled entrees -- the Pacific salmon, the Maryland breast of capon and a special on one occasion, the coral scallops brochette -- suffered from an overdose of mesquite smoke.
Although the medium-rare Virginia rack of lamb looked promising and had a rich flavor, the meat was tough.
Some of the desserts missed, too. A brick-like triple chocolate terrine was hard to cut, and the two dark chocolate layers were extremely bitter. The Vermont burned cream was inexcusably served with a solidified disk of maple syrup on top.
Two more pleasant possibilities were the lemon mousse cake with a tart puree of fresh raspberries, and the rich, chocolate raspberry torte.
The service zigzags from highly efficient to absent. There can be long waits between courses and then, like the cavalry suddenly coming to the rescue, a squadron of waiters descends on the table to make up for lost time.
Gallatin's offers a unique menu with some intriguing combinations of ingredients. The erratic service and uneven results from the kitchen, however, raise the yellow caution flag.