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All the parts of the new Mosaic Cafe fail to come together to make up a wholly satisfying dining experience. 

Bits and Pieces

Mosaic Cafe and Catering
River Road Shopping Center
Sunday-Thursday 11 a.m.-9 p.m.
Friday-Saturday 11 a.m.-10 p.m.
288-7482

Restaurateuring is performance art every moment the doors are open.

Mosaic Cafe knows this well. The cooking stage is in the open. A smiling person greets patrons at the door. Mosaic presents the city's most visually stunning salads. The sprawling, airy restaurant is broken up into pleasant seating arrangements without compromising anyone's line of vision. This is a see-and-be-seen spot.

It is a measure of our enthusiasm for the old Carytown Mosaic that the new one — in River Road Shopping Center — has been packed since its opening.

But is anyone really paying attention to the show?

On a recent visit we knew we were in for a bumpy night when our shared salad ($2.50) arrived without plates for sharing. We could make do but we did need forks. Our waitress scurried off. We asked for more bread and reminded her to bring water. She returned with bread but no butter. The butter never arrived, but she returned with the message that they were out of the signature continental fries — thick-cut circles sprinkled with Old Bay and served with roasted red-pepper catsup. Out of potatoes? Oh, well.

Shrimp and scallops provencal ($13.50) amounted to a few seafoods tossed with penne, bacon, sun-dried tomato and shards of spinach. I'd ordered the only red meat on the menu, just to see what they did with it, which was next to nothing. Properly cooked and flavorful, if a little thin, the ribeye steak ($13) was missing the sherried mushroom sauce the menu promised.

Mosaic Cafe is not a destination or special occasion spot but a place for a quick weeknight dinner or casual outing. So, we'll make some allowances for easygoing service. Extraordinary food can make up for an off night, and we fared better — but not well enough — on another visit with pastas and a sandwich wrap ($7.75 for the Atlantis with shrimp, spinach, mozzarella and artichokes).

Marinated and grilled portobello mushrooms were sautéed and tossed with red peppers and pesto and combined with penne dusted with Parmesan ($8.75). The cook had evidently plated the pasta early and then spooned on the meaty sauté. While the sauce was hot and lush, the pasta was chilly, spoiling what should have been a no-brainer.

Mosaic mezzalune ($12) was a mascarpone ravioli with hints of smoked chicken dressed in a clingy, creamy sun-dried tomato pesto. This flavorful item would have been perfect if the portion had been generous.

Our second waitress worked the table with the same good-natured friendliness as the first. Unfortunately, she was equally off her mark. Throughout the evening, we waved her over for drinks and bread, dessert and coffee and cream and, blessedly, the check.

At lunch, Mosaic on River Road should operate with the smoothest efficiency. They perfected the New Age cafeteria in Carytown. Patrons queue up, order, pay and sit and wait for their plates.

But, on my River Road luncheon stops, the calm assembly line appeared uneven. Evidently moving at warp speed for hours on end, the counter staff appeared flushed and frazzled. When I asked if a huge sandwich could be cut in thirds or quarters, I was tartly told that the bread just wouldn't hold up. I cut it myself.

Having ogled a friend's mesquite-smoked turkey sandwich, I later tried one. While hers had been piled high with emerald spinach and iced with a beguiling tomato spread, the cook skimped on my spinach and forgot my spread. Another sandwich was missing the guacamole — the critical element in the Pasadena club — and the raspberry dressing was a bare spritz when the dry sandwich deserved dousing.

Given the reputation of the original, this Mosaic eventually may rise to the level of its Carytown cousin. But, to date, the performance is a dazzling
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