Blind Date 

Will Twenty-Seven's beauty be enough to satisfy a choosy suitor?

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This test also applies to restaurants. Nearly every minor irritant can be forgiven, even embraced, in the right restaurant. So, is Twenty-Seven the one?

My own list of pet peeves is lengthy — an occupational hazard — and includes televisions that are visible from the dining rooms, wobbly tables and overcrowded layouts that result in being bumped each time a server walks by. Twenty-Seven struck out on all three within five minutes of our arrival. I was willing to withhold judgment, however, since these problems seemed limited to the section by the bar. Besides which, the place looks great, and aren't we all willing to overlook a few flaws to spend the evening with a beauty?

I'm talking beautiful, not cute or sexy, but classic good looks. The ambience in this renovated building in the gallery/pawn shop district of Broad Street is rich with sophistication that you can't fake. Picture mellow hardwood floors, towering windows that look out onto trees and brick facades, and insanely high ceilings that allow the bar crowd's cigarette smoke to float up and away from the dining room.

Looks means little without personality, and the staff at Twenty-Seven was friendly. Yet it wasn't the best service considering the price point. Our oysters appetizer was plunked down hard enough to cause a precarious pileup on the lip of the plate, and our table, right by the open kitchen, was ringside for the bottleneck at the pickup window as well as every rolled eye, yawn and other behind-the-scenes moments of the wait staff — moments best kept truly behind-the-scenes.

Of course, when you're talking long-term, both looks and personality are trumped by heart and soul. So let's talk food.

The menu is inviting, more French than Italian, though the latter is what the owners have focused on in their other establishments, La Grotta and Amici. But the translation from paper to plate left a lot to be desired.

Love shouldn't hurt. Neither should food, which is why the oysters au gratin were a disappointment. The breading was crisp and the oysters plump and fresh, and the garlic wafted up to greet me. The plate was garnished with red sea salt, a trendy and expensive ingredient that was totally misapplied here. Oysters on the half shell are usually served neatly pressed into a bed of rock salt to keep them from being tipped and losing their liquor. A sprinkling doesn't — and didn't — work.

The kitchen demonstrated another faux pas in the shucking of the oysters. The grittiness in the first bite gave me pause. Hastily shucked shells crack, sometimes imperceptibly. I never want to have to be that careful when eating a dish that is so flavorful, but I'm glad I was, since a later bite held a piece of shell the size of a broken tooth — unpalatable to say the least.

Our other appetizer was a wonderfully flavorful whole calamari stuffed with scallops and shrimp, bread crumbs, garlic and onions, and matched with a drizzle of red pepper oil. Once again, however, the stuffing was a bit gritty, probably from hastily cleaned shrimp and scallops that didn't have their "feet" removed before being ground.

Honesty is important in any relationship, so it hurt when my salad of romaine and frisee (curly endive) arrived at the table dry when a parmesan-white-truffle vinaigrette had been promised. My server was eager to right this wrong, and I delighted in the sharp distinction that only truffles possess.

Entrees, which range from $14 to $26, were the highlight but not without their faults. The fillet of sole with a lemon tarragon sauce and lump crabmeat paired with garlicky mashed potatoes and braised greens proved a safe execution of a classic dish.

The whole grilled Cornish hen with white-truffle-laced demi-glace looked beautiful upon arrival. Sadly the flavor of truffle was nonexistent, and the sauce was further diminished by having commingled with the charred edges of the game hen. (Charcoal has a neutralizing effect on flavors, and I've seen this ruin subtly flavored dishes far too often.)

To sum up our first two dates: Looks? Check. Personality? Hmm. A little nervous maybe. Heart? Well-intended, but young; not thoughtful, not patient. That's not to say Twenty-Seven won't be someone else's dream restaurant. But there are plenty of beauties out there; at these prices I'm holding out for the whole shebang. S

Twenty-Seven ($$$)
27 W. Broad St.
Lunch: Monday-Friday, 11:30 a.m.- 2 p.m.
Dinner: Monday-Friday, 5-10 p.m.;
Saturday, 5-11 p.m.


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