The pleasures of shortcake, et al. at Pauline’s Café

Pauline’s strawberry shortcake sets the standard by which all should be judged.

By Margo Callaghan

It must be difficult for a chef to know their restaurant is being reviewed. The good ones (chefs, that is) send their heart and soul via plate to the dining room, and then must relinquish all control of the situation, in terms of what the reviewer opts to feature. In the case of Chef-Owner David Hoene at Pauline’s, it’s all good, or rather, it’s all exceptionally prepared, fresh, and local. Doesn’t everyone know that? But I’m thinking he will be somewhat surprised to read this article and have it begin with his strawberry shortcake dessert.

It was, quite simply, the shortcake by which all others should be judged. But I worry that by starting with dessert, it might come off as a slight to the luscious salad, quail, and shrimp that preceded it. That said, the kid in me wants to talk dessert before vegetables, and it will be so.

It tickles me every time I get surprised with a simple pleasure when dining.  The sweet tender consistency of Pauline’s shortcake was one of those pleasures served to us Monday night. Too often, strawberry shortcakes of days (recently) gone by have had cakes in need of a more sweetness and butter. How did we come to accept strawberry biscuits in lieu of shortbread? Or worse yet, the Twinkie-esque yellow sponge base? Just make sure to leave room for Pauline’s interpretation of this classic. The secret is the noticeable lack of interpretation! Sweet buttery crumbs soaked up the ripe berries and juice (with a bit of maple syrup)–all blanketed with a luscious lightly sweetened whipped heavy cream.  Yowzah.

Succulent quail on a bed of cous cous with vegetables

And so now I need to take a step backwards, and explain that in our defense, it was Nick Bruno, Pauline’s manager, who mentioned the shortcake in passing as Sheri Duff and I were perusing the menu. He was ever attentive, and steered us towards the newest items on the menu. And by newest, they were freshly minted as of last weekend. At Bruno’s suggestion, Sheri ordered the quail, stuffed with almonds and dates with a sweet demi-glaze. It came served on a bed of lightly spiced, plump couscous, and had artichoke hearts, carrots, and brilliant wilted greens as sides. It was a colorfully presented plate that satisfied eye and palette. My Summer Shrimp Salad sported gianormous sautéed shrimp alongside avocado wedges and lovely scoops of impastata, a whipped ricotta that is smooth and creamy with a touch of sweetness. Then there was a crowning nest of pickled onions with ginger and honey.  (The onions and impastata were the epitome of opposites attracting.)  It isn’t new on the menu, but this flavorful salad is a returning favorite on Pauline’s menu for the warmer months.

A returning summer favorite on the menu is Shrimp Salad with avocado, pickled ginger onions and impastata.

The one that got away was the Switchback BBQ ribs that were featured as a special that night. I am so sorry I didn’t have room to witness how Hoene “does” barbecue ribs. I mentioned this to Bruno, and he shared that the ribs are in an interesting juncture: Hoene is tweaking the recipe and is trying to gauge public opinion. Bruno lays favorites on the odds that the ribs will find a more permanent home on Pauline’s menu.

And so, perhaps you should make it into Pauline’s sooner rather than later, to sample ribs–if they are available. Hoene is also bringing in other fresh summer options throughout the coming weeks—think Veal Scaloppini with lemon sage sauce and ricotta gnocchi. Some will have a steady home on the menu, while others will be in and out based on the bounty available from field and farm, and the reaction of guests to his creations. Please make it in before the strawberry shortcake growing season slips away. You, too, will have et al.

Lunch: Mon.-Sat. 11:30-2

Brunch: Sun. 11-2

Dinner: Sun.-Thurs. 5-9:30, Fri. and

Sat. 4:30-9

Phone: 862-1081

www.paulinescafe.com

 

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