Every new restaurant needs an angle, and the lure at Yellowstone Cafe is an extensive collection of fishing tackle and mounted catches -- not to mention several other formerly land-based examples of the taxidermist's art, along with some of the weapons that helped them find their new home -- decorating many of the nooks and crannies of the cozy, darkly paneled dining room. As the name indicates, the outdoors is in at this establishment. And although the previous occupant of the space went by the name of Dakota's, we were told that the Plain similarity of the new name was coincidence only and that the current restaurant has different owners, in the persons of the same folks who run Marciano's at West Port Plaza.
The menu further reinforces the theme of a retreat or lodge, featuring not just standards like quesadillas and basic bar-food appetizers but the kind of stuff you might be looking for after a long day in the woods. (Despite the restaurant's proximity to Town & Country, the chef has so far resisted the irony of adding a venison special.)
For example, one of our entrees was called "beef with hunter sauce" ($14.95), and we ordered it as much because of the context of the restaurant as out of any real appetite for a hunk of beef. And in that context (especially on a chilly night), this particular dish worked very well -- a sizable slab of sirloin, smothered in a red-wine-based brown sauce of green pepper and mushrooms, served with an elegant side dish of amaretto-glazed carrots.
Our other entree, described as "Yellowstone walleye" ($9.95), was a simple but filling portion of mild fish coated in an herby breading.
We had started with the quesadilla ($4.95) and fried cob corn ($3.95). The former appetizer was a semicircle of yellowish-tan tortilla, light on the cheese in the filling but rich with sun-dried-tomato pesto complemented by mushroom and chicken flavored with red onion and bell pepper. The cob corn came as three subsections of a single cob, skewered on wood sticks arranged into a teepee configuration and served with a mild dipping sauce whose primary flavor I took to be tarragon. The side salad that came with the meal also transcended the ordinary through the use of pinto beans and pumpkin seeds.
The wine list is very short -- only four reds and four whites, all under $20 -- but there's also a thematic list of drinks like the Minnow (vodka flavored with anchovy), as well as some amusing "camp-out coffees" like the chocolaty "s'mores" ($2.50), served in a paint-flecked mug that looked just like it came out of a camp kit. We finished up with a not-oversweet combination of chocolate cream, vanilla mousse and crumbled cookie dubbed the "Oreo smash."
I'd drop Yellowstone into the general classification of a good "10-minute" restaurant -- in other words, if you live within a 10-minute drive or happen to be in the neighborhood, it's a satisfying meal, but it's not one of those places that merits driving all across the urban wilderness to get to -- unless, of course, you're hooked by the motif.
165 Lamp & Lantern Center
(Clayton Road at Route 141)
Hours: 11 a.m.-10:30 p.m. Mon.-Thurs. (bar open till midnight); 11 a.m.-midnight Fri.-Sat. (bar open till 1 a.m.); 3-9 p.m. Sun.