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TW Fable
****
Out of a possible five
$$$

Upscale feel closer to home

It would fit in perfectly amid the hip, upscale eateries along Michigan Avenue in Chicago, so I was almost taken aback to find such an aesthetically exciting restaurant in a Bluffton shopping plaza.

TW Fable is the brainchild of Bluffton native Tiercell Schwartz, who honed his skills opening and working at restaurants for a New York hospitality group.

His sleek new restaurant is upscale and modern in every way, with a dark glazed concrete floor, a black ceiling, beautiful charcoal upholstered booths and leather chairs. Candles are lit throughout the dimly lit dining room and flicker off the goblet-style wine glasses that adorn each table.

The menu is modern American with dishes that one might expect to find at a Bluffton diner, but with finer ingredients and more elaborate techniques. There is a deconstructed brisket sandwich, a modern meatloaf and farmer’s market pasta that changes daily and includes freshly made pasta and whatever ingredients are in season and/or available. The “Fable” represents the farm-to-table concept Schwartz wants to live by.

The restaurant lived up to what I expect from a metropolitan fine-dining establishment, spare for a few amateurish slips. During one visit, for example, every dish – the pan-seared scallops, the Fable salad, the razor clam chowder, the slow-roasted pork loin and the side of haricots verts – was garnished with the same cute little sprinkling of micro greens. A server also provided a couple of funny moments with her pronunciation of the crème brûlée as “cream brooley” and the sake (SAH-kee) used in the signature 360 cocktail as plum “seyk.”

But there were also some nice surprises, none better than the complimentary dessert shots of “Blizzardtini” – a sweet, creamy mix of RumChata, Absolut Vanilia and Cream de Cacao topped off with a dash of cinnamon – the bartender sent my party as a thank you during one visit.

The brisket was the best representation of the modern American cuisine. Thin slices of fatty-edged beef were moist, succulent and lightly touched with a sweet red chile-lime aioli. They were artfully arranged atop a mound of perfectly wilted, sweet crunchy slaw macerated in red wine vinegar and brown sugar. The grilled flatbread on the bottom was sort of lost and became soggy and inedible. Perhaps a good ol’ chunk of cornbread – with an upscale twist, of course – on the side would have been better.

The fresh pasta was also worth having again. It was fettuccini when I visited and was tender, absorbing all of the flavors of the creamy basil Dijon sauce like only fresh pasta can. I added shrimp to mine and was rewarded with a sizable portion of plump, perfectly tender and sweet whole jumbo tiger prawns. If you don’t want to order the fresh pasta as your meal, but still want to try it, get a side of mac and cheese. The same freshly prepared noodles were enrobed in a sinful creamy, rich white sauce that was much like Alfredo.

I was excited to try the modern meatloaf. It was tasty and could have outshined the brisket had it not been missing one key ingredient. The blend of ground filet and sausage was dotted with diced onion and red pepper; it was moist, tender and resembled a giant meatball. It was covered in a layer of chewy, not-too-sharp melted white cheddar and a pair of delectable candied carrots. But I was surprised when my server offered me a ramekin of regular ketchup to garnish it with. A demi-glace or even the aioli from the brisket would not have just been nice, it seemed necessary to make this naked meatloaf truly modern.

The salads trumped the appetizers with the spinach scoring highest. It was highlighted by a crispy goat cheese fritter on top along with fresh parmesan, red onions, Roma tomatoes and a lively roasted shallot vinaigrette.

The pan-seared scallop appetizer, like the spinach salad, had enjoyable cheese crisps – salty parmesan in this case – but the scallops were not seared well enough and were not hot upon arrival. The handmade pretzel logs were better than the complimentary rolls, but I did not enjoy being surprised by the awkward hot-sauce-spiked caramel dipping sauce, which was described as simply caramel on the menu.

The duck wontons were the best of the appetizers I tried, but they, too, suffered from a lack of accurate menu description. I expected Asian-style pot stickers filled with fatty meaty duck but instead got duck Rangoon, which had barely any meat in its cream cheese filling.

The only other disappointment was the slow-roasted pork loin. The candied walnut and nutmeg couscous it was served with was divine, but the thinly sliced pork was terribly dry.

Desserts were not a strong point of the menu with some being brought in already prepared, but the doughnut bread pudding was fantastic as the dense cake doughnuts soaked up the creamy custard beautifully.

Restaurant: TW Fable

Address: 360 N. Main St., Bluffton

Phone: 260-353-1360

Hours: 5 to 10 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday; 5 to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday

Cuisine: American

Handicapped accessible: Yes

Alcohol: Full bar

Smoking status: Non-smoking

Credit cards: Yes

Kid-friendly: Yes, but no menu and more of an adult atmosphere

Menu: Duck wontons ($9), pretzel logs ($8), spinach salad ($4; $9), brisket ($13), pasta ($15; $5 more for shrimp), meatloaf ($19), pork loin ($19), mac and cheese ($5), dessert ($6)

Rating breakdown: Food: ** 1/2 (3-star maximum); atmosphere: * (1 maximum), service: 1/2 (1 maximum)

Note: Restaurants are categorized by price range: $ (less than $20 for three-course meal), $$ ($20-$29); $$$ ($30-$39), $$$$ ($40-$49), $$$$$ ($50 and up).

Ryan DuVall is a restaurant critic for The Journal Gazette. This review is based on two unannounced visits. The Journal Gazette pays for all meals. E-mail him at rduvall@jg.net, call at 461-8130. DuVall’s past reviews can be found at www.journalgazette.net, and you can hear Ryan from 3 to 4 p.m. every Thursday on 92.3 FM, The Fort.

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