In January 2007, Interim was the temporary name given to the chic dining space that was created to house Wally Joe's restaurant near Sanderlin and Mendenhall. When Joe left, Jackson Kramer, who had worked under him, stepped in to keep the kitchen running until a tenant could be found.
Kramer's temporary gig lasted almost three years, and Interim appears to be the establishment's permanent name. When Kramer left for East Tennessee last fall, sous chef Josh Belenchia took his place.
Two things have remained constant through the Wally Joe and Interim eras. First, no one has tampered with the artful and serene interior. Walls are still a subdued natural green, a perfect complement to banks of blond wood at the windows and the wine cellar. Lighting over the tables is recessed and softened by floating ceiling panels, but diners have an open view of the brightly lit and pristine kitchen, where drama is occasionally created by a blast of steam or flash of fire.
The other constant has been the superior service. Under Wally Joe, it was somber and highly structured. Interim leavened and Americanized the style, but servers still are quick and attentive to detail, informative without being garrulous. At a recent lunch, we were disagreeing about where President Obama got his undergraduate degree when our server arrived. We asked her if she knew. She said she didn't, and delivered our bread. Unobtrusively, five minutes later, she reported back that the president had graduated from Columbia.
At another lunch, my friend said he would like to have the grilled mahi sandwich, but wished the dish featured almost any other white fish but mahi. The server immediately offered to substitute grouper. (The creamy sauce on the side of the dish is called lemon aioli on the menu, but would more accurately be labeled a mayonnaise, since there's no garlic in it.) Small details don't go astray in this dining room. Ask for a slice of lemon with your sandwich or mustard with your French fries, and those things arrive without fanfare.
Belenchia has wisely not overhauled the Interim menu, and has kept popular items, such as the macaroni and cheese casserole -- which now includes country ham -- and the crisp and delicate crabcakes. It's worth structuring your lunch order to make sure it includes Interim's fresh French fries or potato chips. There's no going back to frozen fries from here.
A lunch special, which was offered last week and would be a great addition to the regular menu, is the chicken Parmesan sandwich, which had a rich marinara sauce capped with melted cheese on a tender chicken breast, with thick-sliced homemade potato chips, dusted with Parmesan. The potato is a vegetable Interim's kitchen does not take for granted. The potato salad that came with the sausage plate at lunch was also well put together, al dente new potatoes in a light mayonnaise sauce with black and green olives adding a briny, Mediterranean flourish.
At dinner, we had the admirably tender pork shank. It's a meal for the unambivalent omnivore, arriving on a bone you can imagine wrapping your whole hand around while balancing on your haunches at a fire. It comes with luscious, cheesy grits and collard greens.
Another triumph of a dish is the Scottish salmon with a cashew crust and wilted mizuna, a delicate Japanese mustard green. One of my friends ordered the grilled beef tenderloin rare, and our alert server asked tactfully if the kitchen should make that "rare plus." It was perfectly done.
The salad we ordered was baked goat cheese with arugula and sweetened pecans, a finely tuned balance of sweet and savory, with a hint of balsamic vinaigrette.
The most ordinary of our dinner dishes was the chicken breast from Springer Mountain Farms, which was dry. And the haricots verts on that plate were limp. The disappointment dissipated when the warm, fruit and caramel-infused bread pudding arrived.
At our server's suggestion, I ordered a glass of 2006 Ridge "Three Valleys" from Sonoma, a bright zinfandel blend that was suitable for any of our entrees, as was the sleek 2006 La Crema Pinot Noir.
Interim Restaurant & Bar
Address: 5040 Sanderlin
Telephone: (901) 818-0821
Hours: Lunch, Monday to Friday, 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.; Dinner, Monday to Saturday, 5:30 to 10 p.m., and Sunday 5 to 9 p.m.; Sunday brunch, 10:30 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Reviewer's choices: Chicken Parmesan sandwich ($13); Goat cheese salad ($9); pork shank ($28); Scottish salmon ($25); bread pudding ($8).
Alcohol: Full bar.
Poor: Zero stars
Good: One star
Very Good: Two stars
Excellent: Three stars
Extraordinary: Four stars