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Club Soda
*** 1/2
Out of a possible five

Appetizers sparkle on new menu

Scaled back but still loaded with enticing selections, the new menu at Club Soda showed a lot of promise.

There are 14 entrées available for dinner now – six of which are steaks – but, more important, there are nine appetizer options that are diverse and the tile option where diners can choose four for $46 remained (shrimp cocktail extra). I have always thought this downtown jewel was the perfect place to share a few appetizers and sip some of the delicious drink offerings from the bar.

So with a drink in tow, I started with what turned out to be a brilliant appetizer – the duck egg rolls. Southwest-seasoned duck from Maple Leaf Farms in Milford is sautéed with cabbage, carrot and other vegetables, then wrapped and fried until crisp, drizzled with Dijon mayonnaise and served with a more-sweet-than-spicy chili sauce. The duck is succulent and plentiful, and I don’t know if I would ever get tired of eating these rolls.

The smoked gouda dip was also hard to stop eating, but I was forced to when the pita chips, bagel chips and homemade flat bread ran out. The cheese was creamy and the wild mushrooms and spinach in it were nicely chopped so it was easy to dip. If I would have gotten more dipping vessels, I would have wanted chips instead of the bread, which was toasted until dry like a crouton and really defeated the purpose of it being homemade.

It also would have helped if my server would have brought my party a basket of complimentary bread such as I saw sitting on every other table. And that was just the beginning of the service oversights.

While sitting in the rather stale-looking enclosed patio area – which was ridiculously loud compared to the attractive main barroom – the server asked whether my party was going to a show downtown after dinner. When I said no and asked why, I was told they were trying to get all of those folks’ food out first. I appreciated the honesty, but it only added to my irritation as I waited too long for nearly every course.

The salad and soup sat on a cart just a few feet from my table for nearly 10 minutes after being pulled from the dumbwaiter while my server walked past them at least four times taking care of checks from other tables. Guess they were all going to the show.

Luckily, the corn chowder was still warm, and it was delicious – creamy, sweet and with a nice touch of green peppers and fresh herbs. The wedge salad was just OK and was not nearly as enjoyable as the Cesar, which I had with anchovies. Its romaine was perfectly dressed, the parmesan cheese was top-notch, and the salty little fish were the crowning touch.

Two of the entrées I tried had the same problem: a terrible side.

When I ordered the veal scallopini, this same struggling server told me it came with a side of pasta. When it arrived, half of my plate was covered with rice. My server explained that the staff was still trying to get familiar with the new menu and that the scallopini actually came with coconut – yes, coconut – rice. Not only was it an insanely odd pairing, this rice was sickening sweet and not at all enjoyable. The scallopini was good – lightly dredged and pan fried with a light wine sauce with just the right amount of capers to liven it up without overpowering it.

Thinking there is no way a chef in his right mind would pair coconut rice with an Italian dish on Club Soda’s menu, I called a manager who said the scallopini comes with a diner’s choice of two sides. I was not given a choice about the coconut, and I was never offered a second side.

The rice also didn’t help the cedar paper salmon even though it is a more logical dish to serve it with. The salmon was flaky, moist and delicious with just a touch of flavor from the cedar paper and the sage, butter and basil that was wrapped inside with it. It also was topped with three stalks of asparagus.

The 18-ounce, bone-in rib-eye was flawless – tender, perfectly cooked and nicely seasoned with salt and pepper. The aged white-cheddar mashed potatoes were silky smooth but still had substance and blew away the rice, but I didn’t pick up much cheddar flavor.

High points also went to the parmesan-breaded calamari, which was cut into thick strips – the menu called them “steak strips” – instead of the usual rings. They were crispy, not at all oily, beautifully tender and tasty, especially with the fire-roasted tomato-lemon-basil dip that accompanied them.

Overall, my experiences at Club Soda were good. The inside of that building is about as cool as it gets in Fort Wayne; the cocktails were fantastic, and the food was pleasing if not exciting. And with better service and a little pasta instead of coconut rice, it would have left an even better impression.

Restaurant: Club Soda

Address: 235 E. Superior St.

Phone: 426-3442

Hours: 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 4 to 10 p.m. Monday through Thursday; 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 4 to midnight Friday; 4 to midnight Saturday

Cuisine: American

Handicapped accessible: Yes

Alcohol: Full bar

Credit cards: Yes

Kid-friendly: No

Menu: Duck egg rolls ($12), calamari ($13), smoked gouda dip ($11), veal scallopini ($28), bone-in rib-eye ($36), cedar paper salmon ($24)

Rating breakdown: Food: ** (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.