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I have a couple of quibbles with Vivilore. Meals are served with a basket of baguette slices and a little dollop of pecan butter, but the tawny concoction that dominates the bread is a strange, gooey banana jam that calls for hot biscuits rather than Gallic crusts. And another of Dillon's French touches needs a little attention. On the starters list is that 1970s favorite, coquille St. Jacques: browned scallops in creamy wine sauce.
"Is the dish made with the little bay scallops or the fat sea scallops?" asked one of my dining companions.
"The little bay scallops," the waitress assured my friend. The same server was strangely silent when she served the dish, prepared with big scallops sliced into quarters.
These are small gripes, however. Dillon's days of cooking with the late, great Lorenza "Poco" Gutierrez are reflected in several dishes, including an outstanding, fork-tender pork porterhouse, flattered by its glaze of bourbon-ancho-chile sauce. I also like her steamed tamales, made with profoundly assertive French Comté cheese. And the lamb-shank osso buco, served with a silky mushroom risotto, is succulent enough to make you consider gnawing on the bone.
My favorite starter is a mushroom "cheesecake": a hot, bubbly casserole of cream cheese, smoked gouda, mushrooms, peppers and onion. It's an addictively fine excuse to eat more bread. It's vegetarian-friendly, but the menu here doesn't offer much else for meatless diners. In addition to the tamales, the other vegetarian entrée — triangles of airy baked polenta — are satisfying, thanks to a hearty mushroom sauce. And a delectable meal can be made from Dillon's best side dish: a mash of roasted root vegetables including golden beets, parsnips, red onion, carrots, potatoes and sweet potatoes. It's buttery and comforting.
The dessert list changes frequently. I was underwhelmed by a dry triangle of an alleged "chocolate torte" but seduced by a slab of crumbly, fresh apple cake.
It's easy to eat too much at Vivilore, which must have the namesake's author spinning in her grave. After all, she spends two chapters discussing a "beauty diet" that recommends small portions, very little meat, and lots of fruits and vegetables."
"She was way ahead of her time," Ross says.
Vivilore is not ahead of its time, and it isn't supposed to be. It's a throwback to a time when people wanted to eat in gracious, genteel dining rooms, places with soft music and banana jam.