The civilized meal

Plano Cafe offers a surprise in a strip mall

I wondered, last week as I explored the eponymous cafes of Addison and Highland Park, whether I would find in them any essential "Addison-ness" or "Park-iness," some quality that linked the places with their food and towns. This week found me at Plano Cafe (or rather, I found Plano Cafe with great difficulty) and I wondered again, what's in a name?

The Cafe is in that notoriously hard-to-find part of Plano at the intersection of Park and Central, where you drive north forever, turn east to go west and then find the restaurant actually south. I'm sure this is only hard for out-of-towners.

Like Addison Cafe, Plano Cafe is in a strip mall, but this one is much more questionable and, at first glance, less likely to yield a good meal. That's right. Plain-o.

Of course, I know better than to judge from location or appearance. Plano Cafe's exterior probably looks more promising at dinner, but I visited for a weekday lunch. Inside, a simple, straightforward layout was all business: The unambitious black-and-white scheme was lightened up with mirrors along one wall, like Galatoire's--sort of.

Service was less than snappy for lunch, but I had time because I was at work. I don't know how my companion felt about it.

The food was a model of cafe fare, just the sort of thing that makes a restaurant lunch a truly civilized meal--more than refueling, but not an extravagance. The food was well thought out and nicely presented, but without the dazzle that makes evening dining a celebration. This was a meal you could return to work from, if you know what I mean.

We ordered appetizers, not because we usually lunch this way, but because they sounded intriguing, and a well-written menu should do just that: tempt you from your beaten path.

For instance, we were enticed by risotto cakes, part of a larger trend toward "cakes" that started with the crab migrating from its home in Maryland all the way to California. Two patties molded of cooked golden grains, slightly sticky and mixed with minced peppers, were delicious, lusher than expected in their shallow glaze of creamy lemon-thyme sauce.

The crab cakes here had bits of pecan in them which made eating them like unrolling a surprise ball: Every now and then your teeth crunched delightedly into a rich nut hidden in the seafood and the thick mayonnaise blended with sun-dried tomatoes made a correspondingly fat dip.

Then we had to try Cici's chopped salad, because it sounded like it would remind us of old New Orleans-style salad: a cold plate of chopped iceberg lettuce--yes, very chartreuse, but also very juicy--mixed with loads of sliced black and green olives and lots of crumbled feta, everything almost marinated in herbal vinaigrette. It was the very opposite of the current trend in "New American" salads, but so good I kept it through lunch and nibbled it instead of the gluey chocolate dessert we felt duty-bound to try since it was the only one made in-house.

Before that, we toyed with a moist and rosy filet of salmon and the grilled shrimp, which were not large and had been coated in a mild blackening spice mixture but, surprisingly, were not dry, though they were not grilled, either, except in restaurant lingo: They were griddled. They came with slivers of shiitake mushrooms that had been cooked to a lovely brown crispness, like mushroom cracklings, and curls of wilted red peppers. Pasta and steamed vegetables finished the plate.

--Mary Brown Malouf

Plano Cafe, 1915 N. Central Expressway (S.W. corner), Plano, 516-0865. Open for lunch Monday-Friday, 11 a.m.-2 p.m. For dinner, Monday-Thursday, 5:30-10 p.m.; Friday-Saturday, 5-11 p.m.

Plano Cafe:
Crispy Risotto Pancakes $3.25
Toasted Pecan Crab Cakes $3.95
Cici's Chopped Salad $3.75
Spicy Grilled Shrimp $6.95

 
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