454 Main St., Melrose
Hours: Monday through Saturday, 5 p.m. to midnight
All major credit cards accepted except Discover
Accessible to the handicapped
Melrose’s leafy downtown has a recent addition to its restaurant row, a creative Italian spot called Absolutely Fabulous.
AbFab’s earlier incarnation was an under-the-radar operation that used the kitchen and dining room of a nearby breakfast-and-lunch joint three nights a week.
Word of mouth and chef Lori Muse’s cooking drew lines of foodies from Boston and beyond willing to dine in crowded quarters while sitting on folding chairs.
Now, with a bigger, more conventional home (the space was the Blues Grille before this), Absolutely Fabulous has lost some of its insider cachet, but the food’s still worth a trip, and the seating and ambience are a whole lot more comfortable.
Our party of four arrived early on a Wednesday evening, and the place seemed already to be buzzing, though it wasn’t crowded.
An array of wine lockers covered one wall; for $75 a year, we were told, diners can store up to four bottles bought here at a discount. We were seated in a nook with a wooden bench and a wooden table for four. Lena Giordano, who co-owns the restaurant with Muse, chatted with us before taking our order.
We started with a pair of appetizers that friends had recommended. A small plate of butternut squash ravioli with brown butter sage sauce ($10) came with small chunks of squash and cranberries scattered on top. It was flavorful and sweet, but not too sweet.
An order of summer salmon was accompanied by jasmine rice flavored with lemon and parsley. The rice was delicious and just slightly crunchy.
The AbFab steak and cheese appetizer ($12), which featured triple-cream cheese and mushroom duxelles and was served on toast, was scrumptious. We could have ordered more of these all around and been happy.
All four entrées we ordered arrived in the form of edible sculptures, with spears of asparagus or crispy onion strings jutting up or fanning out at odd angles. The portion size was ample enough for three of us to take home generous leftovers.
An entrée of rainbow trout with chive lime butter ($23) was nicely cooked and satisfyingly fresh. The fish arrived wrapped in thin disks of chewy potato and draped over a bed of grilled al dente asparagus.
The roasted chicken madeira ($20) came with wild mushroom duxelles and assorted grilled vegetables, plus a lightly crusted risotto cake flavored with asiago cheese, sweet peas, and truffle oil . . . not that our friend who ordered it could have identified all those ingredients. He reported that the chicken was on the dry side, “But all these things with it — whatever they were — are great.”
An order of summer salmon ($23) was accompanied by jasmine rice flavored with lemon and parsley. The rice was delicious and just slightly crunchy, our other friend reported, and the salmon itself plentiful and tasty. The side dish, a combination of cucumber and peach slices, was “quite original,” she said, “but I think the originality is a little misguided.” Maybe cucumbers and peaches are a combo that takes getting used to.
A 16-ounce rib-eye steak with asparagus and mashed potatoes ($26) was served with a tangy Drambuie demi-glace sauce. A burst of caramelized shallots on top was a nice touch.
We’d asked for the steak to be cooked medium rare. In fact, if we’d asked for a well-done steak, Giordiano had told us, she’d have objected. Unfortunately, well done it was: The meat wasn’t even pink in the middle. (We probably should have sent it back, but we hate to waste food.)
We finished by sharing a pair of superb desserts, both made on the premises: a slice of limoncello cake drizzled with a caramel sauce that was out of this world, and a big slice of rich and yummy chocolate mousse cake ($7 each).
Absolutely Fabulous stays open late, and three nights a week the restaurant features live music.
To judge from photos on the wall, sometimes this involves electric guitars. That’s good if you like a lively dining atmosphere, possibly not so good if you’re hoping to whisper sweet nothings to your dining partner.
AND DOUG STEWART