"Now I know why they call it 'fine dining,' " Bill said, as we drove away from a recent dinner at Fluke Wine, Bar & Kitchen. "Fine indeed! Wunderbar!"
What had impressed Bill above and beyond the food was the service, and we're going on record yet again that service at a restaurant can make or break a meal — it can mar the whole experience of "going out." But the folks at Fluke (owners Geremie and Jeff Callaghan) have figured that out. The staff are attentive to clearing used dinnerware, resetting tableware, packing leftovers in a handled bag; they are patient about giving you enough time to make decisions and answering questions about the menu; they are always pleasant without being obtrusive. Five stars!The wines and the mixed drinks at Fluke (with fresh fruits and spices) also measure up. Bill had a "Fire Dancer," which was tequila, plus tequila liqueur, with lime and pomegranate juices, mescal, and an orange twist. I've previously enjoyed one of the non-alcoholic "cocktails," with fresh ginger or mint, fresh-squeezed juices, and spritzer.
We were there during Restaurant Week in early November (three courses for $30), but the items we had were listed on the regular fall menu, so take note: they were each excellent — kudos to chef Neil Manacle. Our starters were roasted autumn squash soup with maple crème swirled on top (for me) and vegetable wontons (for Bill). The four wontons contained a tasty mix of red cabbage, carrots, and celery, with an enticingly spicy cucumber dipping sauce. My soup was comforting, soothing, and delicious.
Bill chose grilled spiced pork tenderloin as his entrée, which turned out to be melt-in-his-mouth slices accompanied by sautéed spinach with roasted chickpeas and an appealing apple/cranberry chutney.
I was drawn to the pan-roasted monkfish, a fish that can be tricky to prepare, but this was the best I've had in recent memory. Slightly browned from searing, the fish was very carefully roasted, maintaining the sweet denseness of its flesh, almost scallop-like. It was surrounded by Beluga lentils and spinach, all of them sitting in a very light tomato broth. The broth and the spinach matched the fish as memorable, but the lentils (difficult as this can be) were slightly undercooked.
For our third courses, I picked the pear-cranberry crisp and Bill the milk chocolate and hazelnut pudding with hazelnut praline. His pudding was like a dreamy, lightly-whipped version of Nutella.
My generous portion of crisp with whipped cream was expertly prepared. The pear was chunked to the size of the cranberries, so the sweetness of the pears (which stayed a bit firm) and the sourness of the berries could hit you at the same instant. The topping was a brown sugar and butter crumble that complemented the fruits quite nicely.
Fluke is on the second and third floors of a tall brick building, with a dozen tables tucked into a space under garret-like beams on the second floor, plus a narrow rectangle of a bar/lounge area on the third floor. Both areas have views onto Newport Harbor and onto the shops lining Bannister and Bowen's wharves. At this time of year, you're looking into the twinkling lights of a large tree and at the lights on the boats bobbing near the dock. In summer, you can actually catch the sunset from Fluke's windows.