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August 17, 2006

Blue Star Cafeteria, 4800 Burnet Rd

Blue Star Cafeteria arouses suspicion immediately. Contrivances abound, from the impeccably modern (if a bit wooden) logo and menu design to the inconsistently pretentious section naming - "Leaves and Oils" stands in for salads, but pizzas merit only "Pizzas"? Why not "Sauced Flatbreads"? The transformation of the interior of the short-lived Parallel Market is similarly half-assed: An appealing, gleaming sit-down counter and clever light fixtures give way to off-pink walls, a mirror-panel suspended ceiling and some of the tackiest faux-diner seating I've ever seen. Clearly, the budget got cut somewhere prior to outfitting the dining room.

Luckily, the retro flourishes aren't overwhelming, which is good for a restaurant brave enough to essay modernized cafeteria food in a halogen-lit hipster palace. We've been down this road before, and the results have been mixed, at best. Nearly every bloody re-invention of classic diner food manages to cost twice as much as the real greasy spoons and offers half the satisfaction. The point, after all, of all that oil, gravy and mashed up stuff is comfort, and comfort is hard to come by in a $12 cheeseburger delivered by a starch-shirted would-be model.

Given such prejudice I can say with reasonable objectivity that Blue Star serves up some pretty decent stuff. It's not as overpriced as it could be and the kitchen shows restraint and - dare I say - a sense of simplicity in preparation and presentation. This isn't reinvented or modernized cafeteria food as much as it is simply decent, refined American cooking with an eye toward the meat-and-potatoes end of the menu.

Not that there aren't some artful touches here. The fried artichoke heart starter is quite good; dusted in semolina and herbs and deep-fried, it's not at all greasy and almost manages to be both hearty and subtle. The crispy chicken breast is updated with panko breading and was moist and tender, if not particularly exciting.

The true test came with the pork chop, and a minute less of finishing heat would have made this one nearly perfect; marinated in honey and red wine vinegar, the bone-in chop came out beautifully caramelized and full of flavor, though just a notch too dry. Crisp, fresh green beans and a small bowl of exquisitely creamy mac and cheese rounded out this dish well; a definite winner.

Which brings us to the only true disappointment of the evening, and a rather unexpected one: Dessert. For six bucks a slice, "modern" cafeteria pie should, at the very least, deliver the satisfaction of its diner equivalent, but the coconut chess pie seemed slightly stale and the flavor was uninspired. An artsy drizzle of sauce and dusting of powdered sugar on the plate gave the dessert that desperate, hog-in-a-tutu feeling of dolled-up mediocrity.

Bring your magnifying glass if you want to read the wine list or, better yet, order a local beer and thumb your nose at the trendies sipping shiraz with their $10 cheeseburgers. Staff is friendly and attractive, if a little uptight.


Posted by brentbuford at 10:13 PM | Comments (0)