By Rochelle Koff
Upper Crust is a tiny oasis of fine dining with a menu and pricing that suggest big ambitions. Tucked away in Plantation’s Fountains Shoppes, it attracts a leisurely lunch crowd for gourmet soups, salads and sandwiches. On Friday and Saturday nights, though, the storefront dresses up with candlelight, white tablecloths and more elaborate fare.
With just eight tables inside and three outside, Upper Crust is a charmer, decorated with ornate mirrors of all shapes and sizes on walls of apple green. It’s BYOB, but there’s no corkage fee. Our amiable and professional server, Heather, offered to cool our extra bottles and was quick to fill wine (and water) glasses.
The chef is Christopher Ghalayini, whose stepmother, French-born Patricia Heurtaux-Ghalayini, took over the restaurant 15 months ago. Much of his food is very good, but there are misses that would be easier to overlook at a lower price point. On our last visit, four of the six entrees were $34 to $38 — on the high side even with soup or salad and sides included.
That said, there are few fine-dining restaurants in Plantation, and we’ve enjoyed Upper Crust for both a romantic evening and dinner with friends.
We’re welcomed with warm, crusty bread served with a delectable toasted-walnut pesto and also great dipped in the garlic-scented broth of a starter, Mediterranean mussels sautéed with roasted red peppers and Kalamata olives, capers and red onions.
Served with a watercress salad, a round of Camembert cheese is a treat, crusted with a whisper-light tempura batter and set in a butter-rum sauce with a topping of candied walnuts.
As for misses, the mushrooms (portobellos, actually) were barely discernible in a dish billed as a wild mushroom turnover. Goat cheese and bing cherries in a phyllo crust tasted a bit off, though we did like the mango and wild cherry chutney. And the soup du jour of vegetable soup with orzo and chicken could have been warmer and needed more oomph.
The menu is limited but changes every week or two. Cap’n Crunch mahi mahi is a frequent favorite, the coating of crushed breakfast cereal adding a fun texture without a lot of sweetness. The nine-ounce fish is perfectly cooked — pan-seared, then oven-finished — and drizzled with a kicky Thai peanut-chile sauce. It’s served on fried cellophane noodles with wild berries.
Stuffed with porcini, shiitake and portobello mushrooms, the silky ravioli come in a big bowl with roasted peppers and onions, béchamel sauce with a touch of Parmesan and white truffle oil. For an extra $8, add a generous portion of well-seasoned grilled shrimp.
A rustic dish of pan-seared, Parmesan-crusted chicken breast was good and homey, with a hearty combo of roma tomatoes and polenta, plus asparagus — and more pesto.
A buttery tender filet mignon (10-12 ounces) is further enriched with a Stilton filling. The beef is blackened with Cajun seasoning, but a cabernet demi-glace defuses some of the spiciness. It all jibes, but the black pepper fettuccine seemed an odd pairing.
The osso buco, also very tender, came in a reduced cabernet thyme jus, with a spoon to scoop out the rich marrow. We liked the accompanying roasted garlic mash, but the sautéed spinach was bitter.
The seared ahi tower — a stack of fresh, bracing tuna layered with fried wonton skins and a red onion cucumber salsa — is drizzled with a wasabi-cucumber vinaigrette that punches up the cold mochi rice.
Cinnamon apple cobbler (from an outside bakery) would be better warmer and moister. Go for the house-made vanilla crème brûlée or dark chocolate soufflé — a bit of decadence in the ‘burbs.
Upper Crust, Fountains Shoppes, 801 S. University Dr., Plantation. 954-577-7992.
Rating: *** (Very Good)
Hours: 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Monday-Saturday, 5:30-9:30 p.m. Friday-Saturday.
Prices: Starters $9-$16, entrees $24-$38, desserts $5.75-$7.25.
FYI: Reservations recommended. BYOB; no corkage fee. Monthly theme night with $75 prix-fixe menu: Wine Delight is next, on Jan. 24. Takeout lunch and dinner available. AX, DS, VS, MC.