Waterworld

Cafe Pacific may not resemble San Francisco much, but it's still pretty good

Seafood linguini flaws are more subtle. The bowl rippled with shellfish musculature: scallops the size of 3/4-scale Big Mac replicas; puffed-up shrimp in exaggerated butterfly poses; strips of crab claw with red streaks as garish as '50s lipstick. The scallops are the only elements that exceeded expectations. When you get great cushions of shellfish like this, every bite is a risk. The meat could be dry and listlessly flavored, or the victim of a ripeness that sucker punches the palate with a fistful of off flavors.

These were firm and supple, graciously unfolding their delicate sweetness as the flakes moved through the mouth. Shrimp were not as impressive. Though muscular in stature, they didn't sweat the richness the tempura versions did. Crab stumbled further: The flesh was sinewy, and the parts unthreaded with stringy pith collapsed into loose mush. All was bathed in a heady tarragon cream sauce, the herb pulling to the forefront in every fork.

Still, these sorts of blemishes don't fatally sink a dining experience. Buck up and scan the room once more. The bar is like a long narrow cage, as it should be. Above is a rack suspended from a brass bar, loaded liquor bottles holding fluid that is both clear and in various shades of amber. In the center of the bar is an enormous clamshell filled with crushed ice, upended martini glasses rising from the top like the spires of a crown. Weird.

Try Café Pacific's tempura shrimp; you won't be sorry.
Tom Jenkins
Try Café Pacific's tempura shrimp; you won't be sorry.

Though open, the kitchen is shielded from the dining room with glass. Copper pots and rippled stainless steel cladding glimmer through the panes. You have to peer hard and squint, though, to see the mechanics of the kitchen machine, as the gorier routines are shielded by semi-sheer cafe curtains.

Waiters drop off sweet potatoes, fried into stiffened coiled strings, in a cloth napkin bowl that looks like a project from an origami class. They're curled, crisp and meticulously free of oil.

Eat those with the ceviche, essentially a split-level lime puddle. One floods a saucer; the other fills a clamshell where most of the citrus-cooked seafood rests--nuggets of shrimp, scallop and lobster. The meat is firm and delicious. Over the surface of the saucer, near the base of the clamshell, is a slaw of carrot and jícama slivers laced with cilantro. A single shaving of green bell pepper rises out of nowhere, while the summit of the clamshelled seafood mound is crowned with a twisted lime slice: an elegant way to display this swath of oceanic cleanliness. A little trite, though, when you think about it.

Yet just as clichés constitute the bulk fiber of prose, they comprise the durable staples of restaurateuring, even in a saltwater fishing hole in the middle of a prairie. 24 Highland Park Village, 214-526-1170. Open for dinner 5:30-10 p.m. Monday-Wednesday, 5:30-10:30 p.m. Thursday, 5:30-11 p.m. Friday & Saturday. Open for lunch 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m. Monday-Friday. $$$

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