Suburban Standout 

Patina’s adventurous menu can please people looking for the exotic.

Munford, who worked at Millie’s and Havana ’59 before opening Patina in 1996, has created a menu that draws on his early days in the kitchens of San Francisco-area restaurants. His cooking hints at Asian, Indian and Caribbean influences, with staples including black beans, figs, avocado, Salvadoran sour cream, snow pea sprouts, sunflower, Japanese pickled cucumbers and fried leeks.

All this may be a bit too exotic for some of Patina’s Short Pump-area regulars, which accounts for a statement on the menu that says, “If you’re not in the mood for adventurous food, please ask your server about a simple presentation of your favorite dish.”

Such is life in the suburbs, where many of the diners are families whose adults are trying to balance their desire for a gourmet meal with the demands of the younger members for burgers or pasta. The latter are appeased with $7 meals of chicken fingers, pasta, ravioli and grilled cheese.

Two recent visits produced ambiguous results. The first came on an extremely busy Saturday night when the service broke down badly — after a 45-minute wait between appetizers and entrees, the wrong food arrived, only to be followed within minutes with the correct order, twice.

Our sever had explained that the crab Napoleon ($25) would be served warm, but by the time it got to us it was closer to cold. Too bad, because the concept, like much of the menu, was inventive — layers of lump crabmeat, avocado, tomato salad and Salvadoran sour cream with chimichurri sauce and roasted pumpkinseed dusted with chayote squash.

The server also had questioned us about the rabbit ($23), intimating that it might not be a good idea if we were not familiar with the dish, although it’s popular with those who are experienced with it. Having eaten coniglio in Italy more times than I might have preferred, I took the chance and was rewarded with a plump, juicy breast braised in cider, accompanied by beech mushrooms and mashed potatoes.

A New York strip steak ($24) ordered medium-well came to the table undercooked, but when it returned, it was prepared as requested. A nice touch was a GruyŠre lasagna filled with ample amounts of cheese.

On a subsequent visit early on a Sunday night, the food matched the service, which was cordial and professional. A special of beef tenderloin ($25) was tender and succulent, and accented with a cheese potato au gratin. But an entrée of sausage made of lobster ($26) struck a discordant note. A smoked ham hock bathed in a Creole sauce overpowered the flavor of the lobster except for slight fishy aroma. Even though the end result was good — the sausage was crisp without being oily — it was a waste of lobster.

Appetizers also can be adventuresome. Scallops ($9) were expertly seared and wrapped in proscuitto and lifted above the ordinary by spinach gnocchi. Jalapeno empanadas ($10), stuffed with grilled chicken and Mahon cheese, were a bit too oily, but otherwise properly crunchy. An artichoke heart ravioli ($8) came with a grilled Asian pear, whose sweetness was tempered with shiitakes and shaved Parmesan.

The scoop of sorbet presented between courses is a nice touch. And desserts — eight in all — include a Heath Bar cheesecake, banana filo, caramel and pecans in a spiced cream, and lemon and pistachio biscotti. S

Patina Grill ($$$)
3415 Lauderdale Drive
Dinner: Monday-Thursday, 5-10:30 p.m.; Friday-Saturday, 5-11 p.m.; Sunday, 5-9:30 p.m. Brunch: Sunday 10 a.m.-2:30 p.m.

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