Date Night Dinner Downtown at Prime Roast Café
A daytime prime rib and sandwich café transforms with a French-inflected menu and tables at night.
Date night. For a parent like me, these two words carry quite a bit of weight. On the rare occasion that my wife and I get to go out by ourselves, we try to make the most of this precious time. This raises a lot of questions. How much can we afford to spend? Do we want to dress up or keep it casual? Where should we eat?
Earlier this year, Prime Roast Café quietly started a dinner service from Wednesday to Saturday evenings. Dinner not only features their signature prime rib (see below), but also classics you might see at a side street bistro in Paris. Menu items like escargot, duck confit and chocolate souffle whisper promises in my ear that my stomach hopes will be delivered. We decide to stake one of our precious date nights on these and head Downtown.
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Though the venue is unlikely, along the corridor of hole-in-the-wall eateries inside the Arcade Building, I am delighted by how quiet it all is. The usual Downtown cacophony is absent, as workers and lunchtime diners have left to explore their own Friday night activities. Greeted with warm and friendly smiles, we seat ourselves at a small table in the hallway. Unexpectedly, this creates a semi-private space for an evening of decompressed and relaxing conversation.
I take one last look at the menu before ordering and make a mental note of appetizers of crispy pork belly ($15) and foie gras done Peach Melba style ($20). Also for next time, entrees of salmon with miso-caper cream ($22) or Indian lamb curry ($21) sound inviting when I’m feeling extra peckish. Our server reminds us that the posted lunch menu is also available at dinner, with the exception of the cheesesteak sandwich. And then, at our hallway table one block from the Downtown post office, we decide to go French.
We start with the Escargot Bourguignon and are delighted with aromas of garlic and butter tossed with mushrooms and arugula, blanketed upon crunchy herbed fingers of toast. It is a generous portion and at only $10.35, a fantastic way to begin the journey.
Prime rib at dinner is offered in different portion sizes. My wife goes with the larger 16-ounce portion for $46.58 and again, it’s excellent, succulent and rich. Curious about the mango and ginger gastrique, I opt for the Confit of Duck. Two pieces of perfectly cooked duck leg arrive, adorned with roasted seasonal vegetables and partnered with a bright saffron-lemon rice pilaf. I have to take another look at the menu to confirm this plate is only $22.77. Have I time-traveled to 1999? While I love my duck, those who like crispy skin might ask for the gastrique to be served on the side, as it creates a bit of gumminess on the fattier parts of the thigh. I have no problem devouring the entire plate.
To finish our culinary travel to France, we order the chocolate souffle ($10) and apple tarte tatin ($10.35). I love a great souffle, and this certainly does not disappoint, slightly sweet while yielding notes of bitterness from the Valrhona chocolate. The entire experience is becoming a gluttonous blur in my memory.
The apple tarte tatin also provides a lovely seasonal coda to the meal, the apples soft with just enough bite, and the crust with enough structure and crispness to hold it all.
At the end of the evening, my wife and I are completely satisfied. Not only is the food amazing, but we find the atmosphere of the quiet corridor cozy and intimate, allowing for the luxury of a personal connection that we don’t always have between working and raising a child.
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When you reserve a table in France, you are reserving not for a meal but for the entire evening. This is what it feels like on a Friday evening at Prime Roast Café where the plates are substantial, the prices relatively wallet-friendly, the staff convivial and the atmosphere unpretentious. Did I mention I wore a collared shirt, shorts and slippers? Romantic!
Open Monday and Tuesday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., Wednesday to Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and 5 to 8 p.m. Dinner reservations recommended. BYOB with $20 corkage fee. 212 Merchant St., (808) 521-7777, @primeroastcafe