GOLDEN FENNEL: A very pleasant appetizer.
Obama and the Democrats in Congress have ceded control of the nation to the Republican minority, virtually guaranteeing an electoral massacre for Democrats in the fall. Seeking to understand our once-and-future masters, I headed up to Falmouth, where registered Republicans outnumber Democrats, to examine how they eat. I followed some expensive sedans to Johnny's Bistro, a restaurant run in a strip mall by the man, Johnny Robinson, who operated Hugo's before Rob Evans. Johnny's was filled to near capacity with fair-skinned paragons of the conservative type.
Robinson is a genial Irishman with the appearance of a pulled-together Danny Bonaduce. He greats customers in person, and guided us to the "garden table" where window plants block most of the view of the Walmart, as he pointed out himself. The whole room seeks a courtyard-garden feel with painted arches and a leafy mural between the drop ceiling and the blue carpet, broken up by the occasional trellis. The effect ends up somewhere between elegant and conference center.
Based on the menu, Republican fare calls for a hint of ethnic flavors and copious warnings about gluten. The Falmouth upper-classes must be dropping from wheat the way rich ladies once did from the vapors. The gluten-threat-level is on red at Johnny's, or rather the opposite (green?) — as most dishes earn stars for gluten's absence the way a Thai dish would for heat. If only the Walmart would start such a system for lead or child labor. The ethnic flavors come courtesy of chef Noly Lopez, whose background is Cuban (a solid Republican voting block), but whose culinary interests appear to range more widely.
As we pondered the menu, a healthy blonde family at the next table, with good posture and unobtrusively expensive clothing, received their dishes heaping with lamb, sirloin, and hanger steak. They devoured the red meat with astonishing speed and vigor, like Mr. Fox in the recent film, or the blond beasts described in Nietzsche's Genealogy of Morals. They seemed very satisfied, but we were shaken by the spectacle and steered toward vegetables and seafood.
A golden fennel appetizer was an unexpectedly pleasant surprise. The bulb had been par-boiled, sliced, and breaded. Served with a sun-dried tomato sauce, the effect was a bit like eggplant Parmesan — but this more resilient vegetable, though tender, offered a better chew and more interesting flavor. A tart with mushrooms, shallots, and fontina looked like a small deep-dish pizza. There were ample dark and rich mushrooms, but we wished the cheese had more bite and the crust had less shortbread sweetness.
A circle of tender pan-fried calamari, lots of it for a "small plate," was seasoned with Moroccan spices that featured coriander, garlic, lemon, and enough diced cilantro to make the effect almost pesto-y. It was a good dish. Even better was the butternut squash and pear ravioli. The liquidy center was as sweet as it sounds. But the dish was redeemed by a buttery, nutty sauce spotted with bitter arugula, and the delicate pasta. A breaded sole was straightforward and well executed. The fish was light and tender, but overall the dish was a bit dry and might have benefited from a splash of buttery sauce. It was served with slices of caramelized banana — not as sweet as it sounds — which animated things a bit.