Germantown Cafe's Lottery, for the Win!



Scallops on homemade tomato basil sauce at Germantown Cafe East
  • Scallops on homemade tomato basil sauce at Germantown Cafe East
Great idea for a soft opening: Make it like a game where everyone wins.

To preview its relaunch, Germantown Cafe East invited friends of the restaurant to make reservations. Once seated, diners got a menu, then randomly selected slips of paper from a goblet. You get whatever to paper indicated, and the kitchen and servers were put through their paces with every dish on the menu.

It was a good way to fill the dining room with willing victims guests to to rechristen the space at 501 Main. It had operated as Allium until earlier this summer, braving the sharp teeth of the recession, the financial and ownership snafus that beset the Fifth and Main building, as well as the reluctance of West Siders to venture eastward even in good economic times. Its viability speaks well of its management. Still, it didn't find its audience in the same way that sister restaurant Germantown Cafe did.

We drew duck satay appetizers, scallops in tomato sauce and the day's pasta: tomato cream farfalle, with the option to add chicken or shrimp (yes please!). The wine selection included a sparkling pink, available by the half-liter carafe. Be still, my heart.

Everyone knows it's a challenge to cook scallops and shrimp. It helps to start with very fresh, high-quality specimens, and it helps if chef Jay Luther is doing the cooking. Every bite was a tender and still delicate. Across the menu, Germantown regulars will recognize the reliance on fresh ingredients enahanced with a touch of spice here, some extra garlic there, and attention to flavor balance.

The menu is 30 percent Germantown (plum pork, coconut curry salmon), 30 percent Allium and maybe 20 percent items that were once on the Germantown menu, were removed and there was an uproar. The rest is unique to Germantown East.

The new website will have the menu updates in real time, making it possible to check what's for dinner before you go.

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