Heading south for dinner

Americus spins Southern cuisine

Another of Americus' flavor-shy creations was the pan-seared mahi-mahi with ginger-lemon crust and sauteed spring vegetables in a fennel jus. It wasn't flawed, just uninspiring. Surprisingly, the jus was not as assertive as the name might imply, though it was plenty salty, holding a mix of tender baby carrots, wax beans, French string beans, and boiled potatoes. The mahi-mahi had a slightly inconsistent texture with firm, dense flesh giving way to pockets of mushiness and a richness that seemed to surrender all too easily to the surges of lemon and ginger.

Grilled Angus beef tenderloin with new potato souffle and grilled asparagus had all the aesthetic lasciviousness that incites shameless slobbering among red-meat lovers. Cooked to a perfect medium-rare hue, the steak was silken, yet dry and short on full flavor. The new potato souffle, a composition made from hollowed-out potatoes stuffed with a mixture of sauteed mushrooms, shallots, and egg whites that rises out of the potato as it's baked, was girded with potatoes that were dramatically undercooked--crunchy and slightly bitter. The asparagus, though, was crisp and tasty.

Resembling the hue of a cru Beaujolais, pecan-crusted rack of lamb with rosemary zinfandel sauce was far too rare--stringy in its fleshy red limpness. But despite the off-putting texture, the flavor was sweetly rich and nutty. An accompanying blue cheese grit cake rendered from white corn grits and blue cheese, cooked in milk and pan-seared with the lamb, was tangy but a bit too cakey in texture, which seemed to hinder the coalescence of flavors. Slightly wilted kale was crisp with a clean, smoky sweetness from the sauce derived from lamb stock with red wine reduction.

Virtually flawless, the grilled pork chop in a maple-sage glaze was flush with silky succulence sheathed in a delicately crisp grilled exterior. But a side of heirloom bean ragout created from a smoky tomato-veal stock was studded with severely undercooked beans that almost crunched. In addition, an herbed potato croquette--mashed potatoes and egg coated in breadcrumbs, sculpted into the shape of a pear, and deep-fried--was pasty and suffused with off flavors that seemed derived from refrigerator odors.

Americus' desserts were another mixed bag. The creme brulee is imaginative, yet wimpy. Founded on a cold, creamy custard with an engaging mint essence, the burnt sugar crust was barely there, too thin to elicit even the slightest crunch. Better was the renaissance, a cake disk settled in a white chocolate sauce speckled with pinwheels of raspberry coulis. The cake is baked just shy of the point where it sets throughout, so the inside flows with a silky chocolate cake batter that is elegant and full-bodied. Topped with a scoop of ice cream and a harp-like chocolate-dipped cookie planted in the center, this creation is an able blend of chewy and creamy textures with a tightly focused richness.

As might be expected from a restaurant with regional American cuisine, Americus' modest wine list is heavily weighted with California Chardonnays, Cabernets, and Merlots. But there is a smattering of interesting wines such as a Vouray, an Alsatian Gewurztraminer, an Oregon Pinot Gris, an Australian Shiraz, a Chateauneuf du Pape, and a pair of Bordeaux. Plus, there's a reserve list with such things as Ferrari Carano Siena ($74) and a '79 Chateau Lafite ($625). List headings also include varietal descriptions where appropriate and menu pairing suggestions.

Americus is a pleasant venue with service that is as astute as it is attentive, though the sparsely populated dining room during my visits tended to reveal the cloying aspect of its execution.

The regional culinary philosophy girding the menu is interesting, but it needs a little tightening and perhaps a dash of pizzazz, because none of the elements effectively transcends the clean, handsome decor, which is a bit too sanitized in a retail sort of way to seduce the senses.

Still, Americus is politely red-blooded enough to elicit genuine interest, even for those who flunked geography.

Americus on Preston. 19009 Preston Road, Suite 117, (972) 381-0028. Open for dinner Tuesday-Thursday and Sunday 5:30 p.m.-10:00 p.m.; Friday & Saturday 5:30 p.m.-11:00 p.m. Open for Sunday brunch 10:00 a.m.-2 p.m. $$$-$$$$

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