I don't know anyone who was longing for a new restaurant to take Stella's place in the old Brodnax Jewelry Building at 39 S. Main. It was one of Downtown's beloved fine-dining places during its six-year tenure at the site. I have a foody friend who uses the restaurant Johnny Kirk ran there as a reference point: The best meal she ever had was at Stella one Saturday night in 2006, she says.
But restaurants come and go in mysterious ways. Now we have Flight in the venerable building with mosaic tile floors and a marble column, which had an elegant makeover when it became a restaurant in 2004.
The word "flight" is used here to mean sample. So, when you order the Fresh Fish Flight for $29, for instance, you get a sampling of Atlantic grouper, halibut and Chilean seabass delivered on a wooden tray with three holders. Each sample is served with a portion of the side items those dishes come with when they're ordered as full entrees or small plates. (There is, a dizzying array of choices to make here.)
The menu is cute: Flights of wine come under headings such as Call a Cab -- uh, those are the cabernet selections -- and Zin a Name -- I'll let you guess what kind of wine that is.
The Flight scheme is made to order for a reviewer on a budget. At one dinner, we got to try all the salads and soups on the menu. The $9 salad sampler included a feta and watermelon salad -- a fresh and ingenious combination of the title ingredients plus mint, red onion and olive oil -- along with a spinach salad, and one with orange and avocado, almonds, and a mustard vinaigrette which could have used some tartness.
The $9 soup flight was also quite fine: lobster bisque, seafood gumbo and French onion soup. The bisque was rich, with a pleasing sharp and peppery edge; the gumbo was admirable; the French onion soup was classic.
The survey of fresh fish was a bargain. I worked my way through the dishes left to right. From grouper to halibut to seabass, or good to better and best. The grouper came with a fruit relish, the halibut with a creamy shrimp risotto and the seabass on a lush bed of creamed potatoes with leeks, bacon and a tomato coulis.
We also had the beef flight ($29). Here's where you want a firm hand on the grill, and you get it. The filet mignon came with potatoes and grilled shiitake mushrooms in a perfectly realized Bordelaise sauce. The flat iron steak came with a mushroom risotto, and the ribeye, the tastiest of the trio, came with a bacon and onion "mash" and a fine homemade Worcestershire.
The wine flights are a bargain. We ordered the $11.50 pinot noir sampler -- I just pointed at the menu so I wouldn't have to say "So Goes Pinots" out loud -- and received the Irony from Monterey, the A To Z from Oregon and the delicious Coppola Director's Cut. With the beef, we followed that old path of least resistance and got the cabernets for $13: the Chilean Root 1, the Educated Guess from Napa and a knockout Fritz from California's Dry Creek Valley.
The staff on a hectic Saturday night provided essentially flawless service, although the hostess was pretty stern with us.
We didn't have reservations and arrived at about 6:30. We were offered the bar, but asked if we could sit on the patio where there were tables open. The hostess said we could, then left us standing at the door. Uncertain how to proceed, we went on our own to a table by the street and were given menus. But she returned with someone bearing chairs to set up a tiny table for us against the wall, and we were moved.
Then a mosquito flew into my eye, and diners on either side of us lit cigarettes, and we asked to shift to the bar. We were, in other words, annoying. She did not return my smile as we filed by with our trays of wine samplers being borne before us by our server.
Lunch at Flight is an entirely different affair than dinner, with casual dishes all named after cities. The Memphis is a pulled pork barbecue sandwich, the New Orleans is a shrimp po-boy, the San Antonio a chicken fajita quesadilla, etc. The quesadilla we had was unremarkable. We also ordered the Santa Fe salad, a tasteless dish of lettuce with very slight additions of grilled chicken, black beans, mango and avocado. The only hit at our lunch table was the New York City, ravioli stuffed with chicken, bacon and mushroom.
--Peggy Burch: 529-2392
Address: 39 S. Main St.
Telephone: (901) 521-8005
Hours: Lunch is Monday-Saturday, 11 a.m.-2 p.m. Dinner Monday-Thursday, 5-10 p.m.; Friday-Saturday, 5-10:30 p.m. Closed Sunday.
Reviewers' choice: Fresh Fish Flight, Beef Flight; Soup Flight; Salad Flight.
Beverages: Interesting wine selection; full bar.