While it stakes out no new territory, the Fan Bar and Grill does deliver a tasty meal at a decent price. 

Playing it Safe

On the corner of West Main and Allen, just a few doors up from "Happy the Artist's" whimsical "Gal-r-ee" and a stone's throw from the home of the popular Billy Bread, sits the aptly, if not creatively, named . It occupies a typical Fan building outfitted with your standard-issue restaurant furnishings — wooden booths, a bar, some plants and a few black-and-white photos.

In fact, the most interesting décor in the place is on the arms and legs of the staff who flaunt their extravagant tattoos like a chic uniform and provide congenial laid-back service. From eavesdropping, we gleaned that the cook and the bartender were father and daughter, after which we surmised that the Fan Bar and Grill is a family business — an impression not inconsistent with its overall feel.

The menu looks like the product of someone who learned his trade in a conventional, but somewhat upscale, hotel or country club before deciding to strike out on his own. It reads like a compilation of one cook's all-time-favorite combinations interspersed with traditional crowd pleasers. From a business standpoint, it seems well-conceived with an eye toward presentation, ease of preparation and the all-important bottom line.

There are a few creative combinations like blackened chicken breasts with an interesting-sounding fresh basil and corn purée ($11.95), some classic combinations like pan-seared crab cakes with lemon caper butter ($15.95), and a handful of similarly priced specials, like grilled mahi-mahi with a fresh tomato cilantro salsa. Also available are a selection of four less expensive "plates," such as teriyaki-marinated London broil ($8.25) and seared turkey breast with mashed potatoes ($6.95), and a list of nine sandwiches.

A shrimp and andouille sauté ($6.95) arrived with a presentation that exceeded my expectations and was almost as tasty as it was dazzling. Three spiky grilled baguette towers guarded a hillock of andouille and tail-on shrimp that were sautéed with herbs and sauced with a garlicky wine reduction. The flavors melded nicely, and the fact that the baguette was a little inferior seemed unimportant since, in the end, it was little more than a vehicle for the wine sauce. A portabella mushroom appetizer ($6.25) was also enjoyable, though a little bit on the heavy side. Oversized mushrooms were grilled then baked with spinach, roasted garlic, red sauce and mozzarella. The mushroom flavor was more or less lost in the heavy cheese and tomato combination.

Roasted garlic and grilled portabellas also made an appearance in our entree of grilled pork tenderloin ($14.95). Here again, the presentation was appealing. Grilled portabellas and pork medallions, still pink in the middle (as they should be), were napped with a robust shallot cream sauce and were arranged rather elegantly around a mound of horseradish-spiked mashed potatoes on a black Fiesta Ware plate. The pork was moist and the sauce was predictably rich and mellow, but the mashed potatoes were the real treat — creamy and light with an intense and irresistible horseradish aroma that lingered after every bite.

We selected our second entrée from the less expensive section of "plates." "Plate Number 3" proved to be a sensible and healthy vegetarian offering that tasted a little too sensible and healthy. Grilled strips of squash and zucchini were arranged atop black beans and rice pilaf, which included a few strands of pasta. This type of dish is highly sought-after by those who like to dine out without indulging, but it could have been made better with more interesting seasonings.

Whoever designed the menu clearly decided to not invest much effort in the desserts, and it shows. None of the offerings engendered any enthusiasm at our table and our reactions turned out to be accurate — a key lime pie and a double chocolate pie were both exceedingly uninteresting.

The Fan Bar and Grill is a comfortable place for a drink or an inexpensive meal, and it offers a smattering of more interesting, nicely presented dishes. Nevertheless, something seems missing. Perhaps this relatively new restaurant is still trying to determine its own identity, to find its niche. Perhaps it's a little too noncommittal or a little too cautious. It's not that every restaurant needs a marketing gimmick, but in city filled with interesting restaurants with charming peculiarities and interesting flair, this one seems a little generic. I don't know, though, I might go back to check out that bartender's


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