Absolutely Fabulous - Long
So I finally made it in, and here goes... Weird breaking through the little crowd of smokers outside, but that's hardly AbFab's fault. - although they could stick one of those smokers' ashtray things in the alley next door. There was no one to greet us at the podium, and it turned out that our usher was our server as well, one of two on the floor as far as I could tell. He was very friendly, and what he lacked in experience (my guess) he made up for with common sense. Sometimes. It did take a while to order, but after that one lapse, everything proceeded in a timely manner. Our server poured us water, and we asked if they had smaller glasses for our kids. He laughed that they should but didn't. We laughed, too. Then he brought our drink order - in smaller glasses! No biggie though.
Food... We order a vegetarian version of the antipasti, escargots, fruitti de mare and meatballs. First off, the portions are seriously suburban. Three people could have split the antipasti (grilled eggplant, roasted pepper, really nice bean salad, greens, grilled zucchini, pecorino, fesh mozzarella, balsamic dressing on the side) as an entree. (Really, Chowhound spellcheck? You don't know entree? Nor Chowhound? Nor Spellcheck?) Anyway, as I said portions are huge. We got scared at our neighbors' brobdingnagian salads. (I threw that one in just to f with you spellcheck). My three meatballs, stuffed with asiago and served over a pesto cream and marinara, were quite nice, if not groundbreaking. And each was larger than a tennis ball. The escargot were fine (read meh) , served over toasted, sliced Pillsbury baguette; as was the fruitti di mare, shrimp, squid and maybe scallops (I forget) in a caper butter. My wife reported that her antipasti outperformed Bertucci's. WooHoo!
For entrees we had pesce espada, a vegetable timbale and a split order of penne with breaded chicken and garlicky broccoli. The pesce espada, a tomato/caper/seafood stew was ok - nothing better than Legal or Turner's, but quite delicious when I reheated it the next day with more olive oil, butter, smoked paprika and salt. The timbale was a free-form napoleon of grilled expected vegetables with a nifty swizzle of balsamic glaze on the plate and some pesto oil. It tasted alright, but was overwhelmingly oily. The penne, apparently, passed the child test.
Pluses: Really nice room, nice vibe, decent food.
Minuses: To be honest, I was hoping for more of a Garden at the Cellar. It's funny. My wife immediately said, "Ooh, it's expensive!" But it's not, given their ambition. It's Hungry Mother, Central Kitchen or Garden pricing, and she's never said those places are too expensive. It's all context. An earlier hound said it sounds pretentious. Well, it's not. Not one smidge. But unless the menu changes often, and from its current circa 1989, too Italian inspired, sometimes not, format, I can't see making myself a regular. Another problem I had: the small plates menu - something infinitely more interesting that the plethora of pastas, is apparently not available in the dining room. Another problem, and chalk it up to lack of real restaurant experience and probably issues with the physical space: the actual plates were ice cold. And also, if I'm paying twenty-plus bucks for an entree in Melrose, please have yours delivered by a respectable bakery, or at least find a better bake-off brand.
Anywho, I've bored you quite enough. It's worth a try, really. Sit in the bar. (I didn't try a cocktail, myself.)
454 Main Street, Melrose, MA 02176
Made it to Ab Fab last night for first time. Initial plan was to hit 62 on the Wharf, but the weather kept us closer to home.
First the positives, The portions were significantly larger than most places. We split a generous sized caesar salad to start. My DC and I prefer traditional flavored dressing with a distinct taste of anchovy. This was missing here as the dressing was dominated by a lemon flavoring. Unusual for sure, but to my palate, refeshing. DC disgreed. Regardless, this salad was big enough for three to split.
Entrees were equally huge. I had the West Emerson pasta and the DC chose the Chicken Napoli. The latter was possibly three chicken breasts sliced into cutlets and fried deep-brown, then layered with melted buffalo mozzarella, marinara and prosciutto and covered with with broccoli rabe and red sauce. Pesto cream sauce is usually in the mix, but by request, was omitted. DC declared the dish tasty, but acknowledged that it was "nothing special." I had a taste and found the chicken slightly overcooked and proscuitto/mozzarella layer too chewy, but felt the quality of ingredients was good and the overall taste of the dish positive.
My entree was better - two huge pork cutlets that maintained a delicate moist texture despite being pounded to under a half inch thickness. Lying atop a heap of just -right cavatelli coated in a garlic-wine-olive oil, the cultets were finished with a nice pile of broccoli rabe. If garlic is not your thing, avoid this dish! Somehow, I managed to clear my plate even though I had every intention of bringing home leftovers. :>)
To the negatives. The place was freezing and drafty. The initial table we sat at was so cold, we needed to move. The second table was better - until the music act started bringing their equipment in through a door right behind the table. They made at least ten musicians rips, which turned our table into a walk in-fridge. Worse, a band member kept banging into our chairs with the equipment.
One other issue. In this economic environment, it's difficult to make a statement that runs counter to somebody's need to pay the bills. In this case I must. Memo to the waitress with laryngitis. Do not work when you are clearly sick. This is basic stuff! And to that person's owner or manager, please send your staff home when they are not well!
(If I get sick in the next 48 hours, you can guess who I will blame.)
Inre previous reports of poor service, we did not have any problems except a minor slip up on the chicken dish, which was supposed ot be accompanied with pasta. After it did not arrive with our entrees, the staff whipped up a plate in less than two minutes.
I still have not been to Bobby C's or Pat's Pushcart, but the near North Shore standard when it comes to red cause Italian remains La Vita Mia in Saugus.
IMHO, Ab Fab is not in their league - yet.
Went to AbFab last week with large concerns about service and food based on previous reviews (we had a gift certificate). However, we ended up having a really nice meal with good (not great) service. Granted, we were early diners (about 5:30pm) on a Thursday evening but we had no issues with pacing or attitude -- the waitress couldn't have been nicer, the atmosphere was very welcoming and the chef made the rounds to each table to while we were there. You could tell that it was a "family run" place by the way the staff interacted with each other and with diners.
We started with two soups - Italian wedding soup and the special, cream of parsnip. Both were excellent and very generous portions (I thought they mistook our "cup" order for a bowl). In fact, as the OP mentioned, the servings were of the type that you could make another meal from the leftovers (and we did). I was fine with the bread that they served, sort of a crusty multigrain, which came with seasoned olive oil.
For entrees, we had pork piccata, chicken francaise and roast chicken Madeira. My entree was the roast chicken which was a breast served Statler style, with rabe and a risotto rice cake (sort of a flattened arancini). It was very tasty and moist, although I could have used a little more sauce. The piccata and the francaise received thumbs up, with the caveat that the francaise was covered in bread crumbs rather than the egg batter mentioned on the menu, a bit of a disappointment. In contrast to my dish, both of the other entrees had an overabundance of sauce (maybe because the cutlets were served on top of pasta?).
All in all, a very good value -- the prices were reasonable and we did get two meals via leftovers. I would definitely return...
Thanks for the review, much appreciated. I'm glad to hear it sounds like they've gotten their act together. Was there any mention of Sunday brunch? They had been making noises about that on their Facebook page at one point.
(BTW as far as I've ever heard, Chowhound doesn't have a spellcheck- if you've got one, it's on your browser's side. That being said, I'm noticing spell-checky lines I don't recall seeing before either, so maybe that's changed! Of course, it's just as likely they've always been there for me and I never noticed them until now...)