Where do I begin…?”
This line from the Love Story theme song perfectly articulates my dining experience at The Gas Lantern at the Rose Garden, housed in a lovely Victorian building in downtown Clarksville, a place where on warm days you can dine el fresco at spacious tables on the rambling front porch.
Step inside and the ambiance of high-ceilinged rooms, candles, and crisp white linen invite you to spend time savoring the multiple courses that mark Gas Lantern dining. If you in a “hurry up and eat we have to be somewhere” mode, skip this restaurant for now; the quality of the food and the impeccable service at The Gas Lantern mandates a leisurely pace for dining. You want to sit and savor the experience.
We arrived early Friday evening, nesting in our corner table with a quick order of wine (one red, earthy and warm, the other a light fragrant Zinfandel) and an unsweetened tea. Time to peruse the menu. Decisions, decisions. As we considered our options, we munched on warm chunks of bread dipped in a seasoned olive oil. I might have added a bit of grated Parmesan atop the olive oil and lightened up on the pepper, but that is personal preference; my companions had no such considerations or concerns. Personal preference did not deter me from sampling a fair share of the bread and the olive oil.
We opted for a single shared appetizer — pan-fried crab cakes — with a mild creamy sauce. The cakes were perfectly crisped on the outside, moist and succulent within. I had hoped for a spicier and elusive Remoulade sauce to dress the crab, but that has been impossible to find in my part of the South. Nonetheless, this lighter, creamy dressing held its own perfection. The Bruschetta, which has been enjoyed on prior visits, is equally delicious.
The salads — basic garden, Parmesan dressed salad or Ceasar — are served in chilled bowls with chilled forks; crisp greens, freshly grated cheeses, meaty chunks of tomato. As a bonus, the chef presented us with a surprise appetizer: pumpkin ravioli in a pesto sauce. The oversized ravioli shells were perfectly cooked and firm, while the creamy pumpkin filling was both aromatic and gently rich in taste. The nutty pesto was the perfect accent to this autumn delicacy.
Though there are numerous pasta dishes to choose from, we chose three entrees: Roasted Rack of Lamb, Veal Scallopini (left), and “surprise me” — a request by the third member of our party who challenged the server to choose for him. That surprise came in the form of a succulent steak/seafood plate.
The veal was a modest portion but an exceptionally tender cut, layered with prosciutto, artichoke hearts, sage and a fine creamy wine and butter sauce. Though modest in size, it was the perfect proportion when factored against all the other succulent servings that arrived at our table. It was served with red potatoes roasted to a crisp, buttery golden brown. The seasoning was a tad peppery, but nonetheless delicious.
The herb marinated Rack of Lamb (right) was roasted with mustard and bread crumbs, cooked to a crusty exterior with sweet medium pink meat within, juicy and moist, devoured quickly. The accompanying side dishes were a creamy Risotto and a white bean/red pepper blend.
The 12 oz marinated Rib Eye Steak (pictured at top of article) was served medium, and topped with four large seasoned Shrimp, Rissotto, and thin stalks of grilled asparagus. While my companion prefers larger stalks of this vibrant green delicacy, I would willingly consume the small delicate stems if he chose to share. He didn’t.
Other tempting entrees include a Chicken Breast with prosciutto and lemon basil sauce, and a rosemary-dressed pork tenderloin.
The presentation on each dish was a visual delight, a balance of color and design that draws the eye even as the aromas have you quickly reaching for knife and fork.
Dessert. With little room left after our expansive dining, we first opted not to have dessert. The best laid plans… we wavered, and the result was the arrival at our table of three desserts that, apart from being imminently rich and mouthwatering, were works of art in form and presentation.
The Tiramisu (right) was a tall, frothy confection, light and flavorful, with an artistic (and delicious) drizzle of chocolate. The Creme Brulee (above) was perfectly carmelized and golden on its surfaced, melt-in-your-mouth creamy inside. Topped with a dusting of confectioner’s sugar and a cherry.
I opted for a down-home “Autumn in New England” dish: Bread Pudding with Raisins and Rum Sauce. It arrived, steaming hot, in an entree-sized serving dish. Enough for two to share easily at the end of a meal. Plunging in the fork, I cut through the glaze and turned the large chunky pieces of bread, finding the pudding overflowing with succulent raisins and wintry spices. I brought half home for an unorthodox Saturday morning breakfast. Rewarmed of course.
Our compliments to Chef Nicholas Nicoletta, whose culinary skills grace this fine restaurant, and to his staff, whose service was impeccable. Though we’ve been told that only time reservations are required is Valentine’s Day, I would suggest them. As the holiday appraoches, this restaurant would be an excellent choice for small family gatherings or a holiday evening in the company of friends.
The Gas lantern is located at 512 Madison Street in Clarksville. They are open Wednesday through Saturday with seating from 4:30 to 9 p.m. For information or reservations, call 931-906-1000