We all know someone whose home cooking is so good, guests are always urging her (or him) to open a restaurant. I imagine that’s exactly how Dr. Melda Dolan got into the restaurant business. She has added her culinary touch to Picasso’s Seafood & Steak in Westport Plaza, with some pleasingly delicious results.
Her ‘special’ menu is presented to diners as an addendum to a fuller menu of Italian fare, and her dishes reflect the fresh Mediterranean influences of her native Turkey. Dolan clearly lavishes plenty of TLC on her creations, things like sea bass slow-baked in olive oil, roasted eggplant topped with homemade yogurt, and spinach phyllo with mint-greens salad.
The key concept here is fresh. Everything on her tiny special menu, about four appetizers and six entrees, is made to order, heart-healthy and served with attention to every detail. Dolan smokes jumbo shrimp herself, strains the homemade yogurt, through cheesecloth to get a dense, flavorful result and purees tomatoes for a freshness you can’t get out of a can.
The regular restaurant menu is filled with classic Italian fare, and the walls are lined with colorful paintings. There is a painted piano in the first room, and it was put to good use accompanying a vocalist the night we visited. All this makes for a pretty eclectic ambience enhanced by brightly painted cupboards and statuary. The place is a conglomeration of smallish rooms, very European in feel, all of them with plenty of windows and a couple with inviting vistas of Westport Plaza’s green space. The service is efficient but casual, and prices on the Italian menu are reasonable, a little higher on Dolan’s special menu.
Stellar describes our order of roasted eggplant and zucchini ($9.50), one of Dolan’s appetizers. Thin slices of the vegetables had been slow-roasted in top-grade olive oil to yield oil-drenched, slightly browned veggies that melt in your mouth. They were topped with a dollop of homemade yogurt, dense and rich in butterfat, and a fresh-made tomato-garlic puree.
An order of spinach-feta phyllo triangles ($4.50) was also good. These had a slight garlic flavor and were more spinach than cheese. They came with a small ramekin of salad greens in balsamic dressing and fresh mint, a distinctly Turkish/Middle Eastern touch.
The halibut entree ($25.50) was designed to spotlight this premium fish. It was prepared simply, with a baste of olive oil, and served with delicious roasted Yukon Gold potato wedges. The fish was slightly dry, and I longed for a little more of that fabulous yogurt to go with it!
House-smoked shrimp with polenta ($25.50), also from the special menu, were excellent. The jumbo shrimp were infused with a heavy smoky flavor and done to an appetizing bronze-red finish. They were served on another homemade treat: firm polenta with a touch of cayenne that came in a square and was nicely grilled. The dish was good, if a little meager, at four shrimp.
Another special entree, spinach ‘souffle,’ was a thick stack of spinach beaten with eggs, baked and topped with cheese ($18.50). It came with a few of those spinach-phyllo triangles and the roasted potatoes.
We ordered one dish from the original Italian menu, linguini Margarita ($18.50), and it, too, was wonderful. A slightly garlicy platter of linguine had a panoply of delicious seafood: mussels, scallops, shrimp, clams and a spicy cream sauce that coated everything nicely and wasn’t too saucy.
Our desserts, also Dolan’s creations, were offered on a lavish and tempting dessert tray. We picked the creme caramel and mini chocolate tortes. The custard was good and fresh. The tortes, although clearly made with fine chocolate, had a telltale refrigerator taste, maybe from being held in there too long.
Picasso’s offers food redolent with the tastes of Mediterranean regions, and an ambience that is funky and fun. All in all, a colorful, creative dining experience (not to mention heart-healthy!)