Imagine if Joan Crawford decorated a restaurant when she was crazy and desperately holding onto fame and you get a sense of what the decor at Astral Plane is like. It's quirky, but in that warm, homey way--not in the "I have to go have a tea party with the plant" sort of way.
Astral Plane has been in the same location at 17th & Lombard for over 30 years, which is almost unfathomable in the restaurant world. Their success is based on a simple concept: friendly, down-to-earth food, service and atmosphere.
I started with my favorite from a previous trip: Maxfield's blue cheese salad. A moundful of spinach is was packed with generous servings of apple, walnut, red onion, raisins and creamy blue cheese. I swear it was much smaller in my memory, because this was a solid plateful that threatened kill my appetite quicker than a picture of Rosie O'Donnell in a thong.
The rich walnuts and blue cheese were cut by the sweetness of the apple and raisins and the bite from the red onions. It's a killer combination that was quickly ruined by the overly heavy pour of balsamic vinaigrette. I'm not looking for a dry salad here, but does every bit have to be sopping with a flood of dressing? The disappointment made me wish I had opted for the cashew crusted brie with apricot compote instead. *sigh*
Dinner took me in an unexpected direction: chicken. I usually mock anyone who picks the chicken, deriding them as unadventurous and pelting them with dinner rolls until they cry in shame. But, having suffered the sweet and greasy attack of Lolita's duck entree (more on that later), I was longing for something tastefully uncomplicated.
Thankfully, the chicken was delicious and I was not bruised by carbohydrates. A plump breast was simply stuffed with herbed goat cheese and topped with a basic pan gravy. That sounds vaguely pornographic, but the food was even tastier than the metaphor. Perfectly tender-crisp string beans and buttery mashed potatoes were plainly plated and delivered the simple, sincere flavors of home cooking.
Despite all that butter and salad dressing, I can't turn down dessert any more than Martha can turn down the opportunity to rap with P. Diddy. The cherry creme brulee proved to be a failed experiment. Cherries are out of season, a fact that was underscored by the shriveled, dried version of said fruit that lied helpless at the bottom of the brulee dish. All the creamy, crackly goodness of my dessert was undercut by the excessively tart fruit.
Instead, I should have stolen one of my friends' dark chocolate mousse desserts. Mouse conjures up images of light, frothy concotions served in martini glasses made to find a reason to use leftover chocolate shavings. Instead, this was a black hole of bitter goodness so stiff that I wondered if they had used a whisk to make it or just put some Viagra in the melted chocolate. I'm not exagerrating here: you could turn the glass upside down and not a bit would move. Marvelous.
Astral Plane isn't haute cuisine, but it doesn't want to be. It's a nice restaurant for friends, new romantics and neighbors to have a solid meal and good times. I expect it'll be around for quite a while.