Meadowlark sings

Contemporary American dining with a dash of imagination

By Paula Johnson

There are certain restaurants you go to for the food, certain ones for the atmosphere, and then there are those that combine both in a way that’s just right. Sound, lighting, decor, crowd, drinks and food all work together to produce a whole that’s greater than the sum of its parts. Those are the places that I return to as often as I can. Meadowlark has become one of those restaurants for me. It was one of the first places I would hear of when I came to Dayton, upon asking the question, “Where should I eat?” Chef Elizabeth Wiley, known as Wiley to all, opened Meadowlark in its current space on Far Hills Avenue after several years at a location near the Dayton Mall.

PIP (Palate In Progress) and I, along with dining chum Wiley Banker Tom began our evening at the bar with a cocktail. Meadowlark’s bar has ample seating both at the
actual bar and the hightop tables in the
area. The lighting and deep wall color contributes to the warm, comfortable vibe of the room. Though there are several interesting cocktails on the bar list, I chose one from the Mocktail menu, the Ruby Slipper made with pomegranate, grapefruit, muddled mint and simple syrup. The bartender kicked it up for me by adding gin, which created a nice edge to the sweetness ($9)

International intrigue

We tried all three of the evening’s appetizer specials, each referencing different international cuisines with slightly unusual flavor profiles. First Oknomiyaki ($8.95)—a dish found in a Japanese izakaya (tavern)—has made its way to Dayton! Okonomyaki is a crunchy pancake, made with shredded cabbage and vegetables and topped with sauce, in this case a house-made Tonkatsu and spicy sushi mayonnaise. Meadowlark tops theirs with soy-braised pork belly, nicely elevating it from its humble bar snack origins.

Samosa Fritters ($6.95) and Welsh Rarebit ($8.95) were up next. The typical samosa is akin to a fried dumpling or empanada. Meadowlark deconstructs the classic samosa and reinterprets it as a fried ball, using traditional Indian spices, serving it with a tangy coriander chutney yogurt sauce. We were fondest of the Welsh Rarebit (essentially cheese toast). I’m not crazy about the recent trend of serving things on toasts as an appetizer, but Welsh Rarebit is a venerable old standby I’ve always loved. What’s not to love about savory, mustardy, cheddar sauce slathered on a good piece of toasted bread then broiled till it bubbles?

Tasty trio

The Seared Sea Scallops with Polenta, Cauliflower and Brown Butter ($28.95) was my entree choice. Three large scallops rested on a bed of creamy polenta, with wilted spinach and little nuggets of browned cauliflower, and were scattered with sliced almonds, capers and raisins. With the flavors and textures of sweet, creamy and nutty, the spinach provided a bright clean astringent note to balance out the richness.

Sometimes I will eat a dish that’s the culinary equivalent of letting your five-year-old daughter pick your outfit. What I’m referring to is the, “Let’s put a whole bunch of ingredients together whether they actually go together or not,” thing that happens a lot in restaurants. In this case, the flavors and textures of the list of ingredients used to make the dish all fit together and played off one another in a lovely and satisfying way. But only three scallops? Yes. This trinity was part of an ensemble performance, the perfect number. If you’re having them simply broiled with lemon butter you’d probably want more, but in this dish three was exactly right.

Hang on

The Grilled Hanger Steak with Garlic Brandy Butter ($24.95) was equally noteworthy. PIP had ordered it before on a previous trip to Meadowlark, and could not be persuaded to try something new. His description was so convincing that Wiley Banker Tom joined him in ordering the same. Hanger steak is one of my favorites, with its rich beefiness. It’s also a standard in every French bistro. A gloss of garlic butter sauce with chopped parsley was drizzled over the tender slices, and PIP mopped up every drop. Though Banker Tom was enraptured by the steak, he was completely taken with the crispy roasted potatoes, pronouncing them the most superior spuds he’d ever tasted.

Say cheesecake

I’m normally very much a purist when it comes to cheesecake, and if I could I would stop the world from flavoring it and piling stuff on top of it. But, that’s because I had not yet tasted Meadowlark’s Cheese Cake topped with Decadent Rubble ($6.95).

“Dave is like a cheesecake scientists tinkering with the recipe until he got just the right ratio between soft and creamy versus dry and crumbly,” reads the menu, and I couldn’t agree more. But it was the “shards of toffee mixed with bits of cocoa meringue and toasted almonds showered down on top of the dulce de leche sauce” that put me over the edge. I can also recommend highly the Banana Fritter ($6.95) and the Apple Crisp ($6.95), but my heart belongs to the cheesecake.

Ambiance adjustment

The only slight hiccup in my typical Meadowlark experience happened because I forgot to request a table against the wall or in the back dining room. My dining companions have high sensitivity to noise, and at peak time on a Saturday, it’s certainly expected that it’s going to be a little lively! Additionally, our centrally located table had a noticeably dimmer lighting level than those lining the walls. We saw immediately that the track lights were perfectly highlighting the perimeter tables and the fantastic artwork of artist Patrick Mauk (I love that Meadowlark hosts shows of many of Dayton’s premier artists regularly). If you’re in need of a little more light, request a table against the outside walls. Despite feeling a little in the dark and having to speak slightly louder than normal, I stand by my initial assessment that Meadowlark is a restaurant which really does fire on all cylinders, and I can’t wait to return.

Meadowlark is located at 5531 Far Hills Ave. in Kettering. For more information, please call 937. 434.4750 or visit meadowlarkrestaurant.com.

Dayton City Paper Dining Critic Paula Johnson would like every meal to start with a champagne cocktail and end with chocolate soufflé. As long as there’s a greasy burger and fries somewhere in the middle. Talk food with Paula at PaulaJohnson@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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Dayton City Paper Dining Critic Paula Johnson would like every meal to start with a champagne cocktail and end with chocolate soufflé. As long as there’s a greasy burger and fries somewhere in the middle. Talk food with Paula at PaulaJohnson@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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