Settled into a plush leather chair, I surveyed the handsome pub-style restaurant in the Garden City Hotel known as Rein Bar & Bistro. On plasma TV screens over the bar and fireplace, a basketball game was in progress, but my attention went straight to the $44 prix fixe menu our waiter handed our party of four. "If two people at the table order that meal," he said, "you get a free bottle of wine -- one that usually sells for about $40."
Suddenly, $44 for three courses seemed a steal. Two of us ordered the special dinner, the other two got entrees only. We all shared a good bottle of Merlot, along with the two prix-fixe appetizers (a fine jumbo shrimp cocktail with lively dipping sauce, a classic Caesar salad with lots of shaved Parmesan) and desserts (airy-creamy cheesecake with a deep caramel sauce and a multi-layered bittersweet chocolate peanut butter mousse cake).
At Rein, one can eat well without spending a fortune. One can also easily splurge, as we did on an earlier Friday night. Halfway into that a la carte dinner, a blues-rock band commenced its set, putting an end to conversation. As much as we enjoyed the music, we had a better time -- and a less expensive one -- on the quieter weeknight. Service both times was solicitous yet unintrusive.
I'd be content to come to Rein simply to share a bowl of the superb Buffalo wings, lightly glazed with hot sauce. What made them fly was that, along with the usual celery sticks, came cool oblongs of apple and jicama, to be dipped in blue cheese dressing. I was less impressed with a lukewarm and rather lackluster goat cheese puff pastry tart. A lobster tarragon sandwich with Boston lettuce on a croissant put a Gallic spin on the all-American lobster roll. I liked it almost as much.
I would have fully adored the thick, juicy "smothered" burger had not its topping of sauteed mushrooms and onions been sullied by the clueless addition of Boursin, a creamy herbed cheese stand-in. Next time, I'll ask the kitchen to smother its impulse to wreck an otherwise first-rate platter, which also contained thin, crisp sensational salted fries.
I had no complaints about an entree salad of rare lemongrass-marinated beef with buckwheat noodles in a Japanese yuzu dressing. Pork chops can often be dry, but the thick double chop with fuji apple sauce on a friend's plate was delightfully juicy. A prix-fixe entree of grilled skirt steak proved highly flavorsome, if a trifle chewy, served with a smoky-spicy chipotle sweet potato mash. Also on the three-course meal was a nice slab of pan-seared salmon with stewed cannelini beans in a fragrant sage broth.
For dessert, both prix-fixe choices -- the caramel cheesecake and chocolate peanut butter mousse cake -- were topnotch. But it was a sundae Martini -- vanilla and chocolate ice cream, freshly whipped cream, caramel sauce and chocolate almond brittle -- that best personified what Rein Bar & Bistro is all about: good eating, both sophisticated and simple.
Brunch and tea are served in the Polo Room at Rein Restaurant.
Margaritas: The clubby, colorful establishment has all the basic Margaritas and a harvest of fruity ones, with a choice of tequilas. About $12.50.
Hot dogs: Chef Steven De Bruyn's Kobe beef corn dog comes with house-made curry ketchup, whole-grain mustard and pickle relish. It's $16.
Happy hour: You won't find any happy hour gimmicks here, where the focus is elegant sophistication. Expensive cocktails are served atop an onyx bar - plush leather and impressive artwork abound. Live music Thursday-Saturday makes a visit even more worthwhile.
Crowd: Late 20s to early 40s
Specialties: Chimay Blue Grand Reserve, Trappist Ale