Note to the message board naysayers: You were wrong when you said it was a bad idea to move Paulette's from its long-time home in Overton Square to Harbor Town. What resulted is an invigorated institution at the former Currents restaurant at River Inn.
That's not to say that everything has changed -- it hasn't. If you liked Paulette's before, driving over the Auction Street bridge is an inconsequential concession to make for brunch. If you didn't, a visit might change your mind.
As a native Memphian, I enjoyed many childhood birthday celebrations and later, dinner dates and Sunday brunches at Paulette's. For no specific reason, somewhere along the line, I
just quit going. When I went to the new Paulette's for the first time, it was with a slight sense of apprehension: I loved the ambiance of the old place and thought I would miss it.
Instead I found that the elegance and comfort of River Inn certainly equaled and possibly even surpassed the charm of the old Paulette's.
The two front rooms of the restaurant are cozy and intimate without being dark or feeling closed-in. Large windows provide a nice view of the river, deep red upholstered seating and double-clothed tables lend a clubby touch, and the tucked-away booths are private enough to make you feel removed from the tables, just a few feet away.
The dining area seems to connect seamlessly to the inn itself, and in fact, walking through the "Little Bar," which is exactly what it says it is and about 10 feet from door to door, takes you from the restaurant to the lobby.
But a restaurant is about the food, when all is said and done. The core menu is much the same: There are crepes, the famous K-Pie still feeds a full table, and warm popovers still come to the table with strawberry butter. There are new items, though, and other items such as the salmon and the grouper are prepared differently.
The Filet Paulette blessedly remains the same, though I'm not sure I've ever tasted a filet quite as tender as this one. It was perfectly cooked to medium rare, and the only reason to use a knife was because, well, that's how you eat meat. I detected a hint of brandy in the butter cream sauce, but restaurant owner George Falls tells me it contains none. Whatever -- it's delicious and it's also $3 cheaper than it was at the former location. All dinner entrees are reduced a bit because a salad is no longer served with the meal.
A scheduling conflict forced me to eat dinner in the restaurant on a Monday night, something I avoid when possible. Let's face it: The A-team is usually taking a night off on Monday, and I'm going to blame the undercooked crab cakes on this. The flavor was nice and simple, just lumps of crab bound together with a bit of mayonnaise and lightly seasoned. Unfortunately, the inside of the cakes were still wet, though they had a delicate crust on the outside. Perhaps they cooked too quickly, or maybe they were too wet to cook through.
Other than peculiar service at dinner -- it started fine, but then we simply seemed to be forgotten and had to ask for the check several times -- the meal was good, and it was the weakest of the three I tried.
Lunch was the best. The Nicoise salad was excellent, a hearty plate of mixed greens in a delicate yet sprightly tarragon vinaigrette. The seared tuna was tender and flavorful, cooked just enough. A generous handful of briny Kalamata olives was tucked in the greens, along with a cut boiled egg, a roughly cut boiled potato, and tender-crisp asparagus stood in for the traditional green beans.
The grilled salmon BLT was also a very good sandwich, with the fish cooked just until done, crisp bacon on top and basil aioli on a toasted brioche roll.
Servings were generous, and there are daily specials available, too. Brunch is a bit different, but not too much. Eggs Oscar remain on the menu, but Southern Eggs Benedict replaced Eggs Houssard.
Both were very good. Eggs Oscar, as all things Oscar, come with crab meat. The poached eggs are served on Holland rusks, crisp and airy rounds that are a bit like a thick cracker and a bit like hard toasts. Hollandaise sauce finishes the dish, a more delicate one than the Southern Eggs Benedict, which uses country ham in place of Canadian bacon -- a huge improvement to the traditional dish.
Falls, who had a management contract with River Inn for Currents, said the move has been good all around, and the crowds at each meal bear this to be true.
"Business is better than ever," he said. "People are driving the extra 10 minutes and coming back because they like what they see, and we're getting new people, too. It's been incredible."
-- Jennifer Biggs: (901) 529-5223
Address: 50 Harbor Town Square
Telephone: (901) 260-3300
Hours: Open daily 7-10 a.m. for breakfast, 11 a.m.-2 p.m. for lunch, and 5-9 p.m. for dinner. On weekends, brunch from 11 a.m.-2 p.m.
Reviewer's choices: Filet Paulette ($26.95); Nicoise salad ($13.95); grilled salmon BLT ($11.95); Southern Eggs Benedict ($10.95).
Alcohol: Full bar.
Poor: Zero stars
Good: One star
Very Good: Two stars
Excellent: Three stars
Extraordinary: Four stars