With its brief but varied menu, the new White Dog has a good chance for a long walk. 

Man's Best Friend

The dynamic restaurant scene along Main Street in the Fan continues to redefine itself. Some have the formula for success; others have the capital; and yet others have the crazy urge to open a restaurant. And so it goes. Some hang on long enough to become institutions; others sit at their empty bar and wonder how they can lure customers in.

If experience counts for anything, the White Dog, a newcomer to the pack, should have a good chance for a long walk. Barry Pruitt, for 15 years a partner at Davis & Main before moving on to another Fan venture, Avenue 805, for a couple of years, should know the route for a good dog walk. This time, he's in a place just down the street from his former haunts, daring to go where many have gone before (come and gone rather quickly, that is) — at the corner of Stafford and Main. But Pruitt should know his crowd.

The space, down a couple of steps from the sidewalk, looks freshly decorated, though it's still small and intimate, with tables in nooks, crannies and a back room. We were seated in a booth across from the bar, where all six stools were eventually occupied by smokers. Short of being seated in the rather lonely back room, the choice, once you're ensconced, is to tolerate the smoke. Mellow pop standards are piped a bit intrusively, if conversation is part of your dinner plans.

But we went to eat — though conversation is as important to that experience as good food and drink. For beer drinkers several drafts and bottles are offered. The wine list ($16-$28 per bottle/$4-$4.50 per glass) is pared to a dozen-and-a-half thoughtfully chosen labels. We had a modest South African hybrid called a pinotage ($17) that I might try again.

The menu, like the wine list, is brief but varied. Perhaps with premature summer weather, some offerings seem like winter fare. On a warm night the black bean soup ($5.50) and green chili and pork stew ($5) didn't set off a rush of craving. Spring rolls with apricot chutney ($6) were more appealing. Described on the menu as crispy fried, they fell short of that, but the zesty chutney saved them. A pastry turnover ($6), filled with portobello mushrooms, roasted red peppers and Parmesan, and decorated with squiggles of a balsamic reduction is a pleasant little variation of some classic and trendy flavors. Other choices are a barbecue chicken quesadilla with a tomatillo salsa ($6) or catfish fingers with a jalapeno dip ($6.50).

The main courses number only a dozen but they cover a lot of territory for a variety of appetites. For instance, there's a "Big Salad with everything that matters including cheese" ($7), and you can cry fowl (grilled chicken) for $2 or add grilled shrimp for $3.50. A mix of vegetables over linguine ($9.50) can be augmented by chicken ($12) or shrimp ($15.50). There's more than an Asian flair in stir-fried shrimp and vegetables over cellophane noodles in a hoisin sauce ($14). It's a colorful, flavorful bowl with good contrast of texture, particularly with a garnish of crisp-fried noodles on top. Ancho-roasted chicken ($10) is ordinary, either kept warm too long or warmed over, but I liked the macaroni and cheese underneath and the crisp, garlicky snow peas on the side. Other entrees ($13-$18) include salmon, lamb, pork loin, a New York strip steak and Hungarian beef goulash.

We finished with an intense fruit sorbet, frozen in the shell of the fruit — tangerine, in this case. It's good.

Gertrude Stein once said that a dog walk should be the same but different. It's an interesting challenge for the one with the leash on The White Dog.


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