Breaking the Chain 

Nuanced flavors at André's Grille give life to a franchise-stuffed highway.

The strip shopping center that houses André's is anchored by Wolfgang's Gym, and parking is abundant. The restaurant looked dark, but we spotted a couple going in. Closer, we saw the interior aglow with candlelight and an almost-full house of cheerful diners. Clearly, we were not the first to discover André's. We settled into a booth in the cozy room and came away an hour and a half later, happy and well-fed.

A few nights later, we went back for a reality check. After greeting some friends ("You must try the Caesar salad with fried oysters!"), we settled in. A smiling server quickly brought a basket of crisp flour-tortilla wedges and a ramekin of sun-dried tomato and cheese.

From a list of about a dozen appetizers, soups and salads, we tried two: the coconut-encrusted fried shrimp with a mild Thai chili sauce and crisp, lightly battered oysters with traditional dips. Homemade soups also hit the mark: A summery gazpacho was chunky; the hot tomato-basil, subtle and smooth.

More than a dozen entrées offered something for every diner, from vegetarian to carnivore. Three meaty double-rib lamb chops were nicely rosy and sauced with a garlic demi-glace. Scallops and shrimp were bathed in a subtle Asian curry sauce. Orange roughy with shrimp needed something zestier than basil cream to perk up the bland flavors, but a crab sauce over flounder and crayfish was delicate and delicious, and it perfectly melded the flavors. A salad preceded the entrées, which were accompanied by potatoes or rice and garnished with a changing variety of vegetables — perhaps spaghetti squash and a ratatouille, Asian-style.

Desserts, like most things here, are made in-house, and the ones we sampled were too good to share. A weekly special, probably now gone with the season, was a frozen peach cream pie, but my favorite was a rich caramel-pecan torte.

An attractive feature of the restaurant is the weekly fixed-price dinner of three courses at very reasonable prices ($16.95 to $19.95). These include salad or soup, a special entrée and dessert. A traditional lunch menu is filled with delicious variations of sandwiches, soups and salads.

The restaurant is owned by Fanny and Joseph Lee, veteran restaurateurs originally from Hong Kong, who took over André's about 15 months ago from Fanny's brother. Fanny is as attentive as a good hostess in her own home. Joseph, who has classical culinary training and good experience, oversees the kitchen.

Many young American chefs are eager to innovate, neglecting kitchen fundamentals in their determination to create something new. Chef Lee's menu is full of interesting nuances and international touches, but his pairings are classic and subtle. Seldom is the palate alarmed by strange tastes or textures. It's comfort food made interesting.

André's is a welcome addition to this part of our increasing suburban chain-linked sprawl. Fanny will greet you graciously the first time; by the third time you're almost family. The food is carefully prepared and an excellent value. It's the kind of place you'll want to return to often. S

Andre's Grille ($$$)
Rockwood Plaza, 3511 Courthouse Road
Lunch: Tuesday-Friday 11 a.m.-2:30 p.m.Dinner: Tuesday-Sunday 5-9:30 p.m.Sunday brunch: 11 a.m.-2:30 p.m.

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