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Sam Dean | The Roanoke Times
Larry and Jan Lynch watch as a waiter prepares a dish tableside.
Sam Dean | The Roanoke Times
Friday, March 29, 2013
On prom night 23 years ago I spent my hard-earned cash from a fast-food job on dinner at one of the fanciest restaurants in Roanoke: The Library.
When it was added to the roster of restaurants to review I jumped at the chance to take a walk down memory lane . Pleasantly, not much has changed.
Quintessentially French, The Library’s uber-romantic decor remains one of the few eateries where the flickering candlelight casts a significant glow.
In 1989 the white tablecloths and crystal glassware surrounded by multiple pieces of fine cutlery intimidated this 17-year-old high school junior. Now, it evokes fine dining in the days before Friday casual, tapas and the Food Network.
The rich red walls and fresh flowers add a sophisticated air. On our first visit, the utter quietness despite the presence of other patrons brought to mind a real library and feelings of guilt when we did talk. Once seated at a table in a private nook with its own chandelier, however, the conversation soon flowed.
On the second visit, however, the four of us were seated at a large round table that made us feel a little too far apart.
When we arrived with another couple, Gregory, the tuxedoed maitre d’ who has been there more than 20 years, greeted us warmly by our friends’ name, which I used to make the reservation . It’s amazing how special one feels to be greeted as if you, the customer, are indeed important to the enterprise — a feeling all the more noticeable for its rarity.
The menu, written in an elegant cursive font, offers classic dishes such as escargot bourguignonne, steak Diane and veal piccata.
The delicate she-crab soup ($8), finished tableside with a shot of sherry, was one of the best things on the menu. On the other hand, I found the sauce on the otherwise tasty stuffed mushrooms ($9) reminiscent of an overly pungent beef consomme in need of salt. The French onion soup ($7) was superb.
I would have preferred the excellent bacon-wrapped scallops ($12) without the bland cream sauce.
The Caesar salad, complimentary with every entree, was pleasant but average. The waiter does provide you with a chilled fork, however.
Although my New York strip ($29), which comes sliced, was juicy and tender, a friend’s crab cake seemed to have an inordinate amount of filler.
On the wonderful veal piccata ($27), the lemon flavor really stood out.
Instead of choosing side items, a standard selection of vegetables accompanies entrees. The julienned carrots, kissed with honey, were among the best I’ve had, and the fingerling potatoes with creamy hollandaise were rich and delicious.
A gigantic slice of sweet butterscotch praline ice cream cake ($8) was enough to share (even if I didn’t want to).
The hallmark of The Library’s distinctive service is its personal nature — due in no small part to Gregory’s efforts. When I found the tonic flat, Gregory quickly replaced the drink . He remembers names, and on my second visit recalled details of our previous dinner.
On the first visit my appetizers failed to arrive even after everyone else had been served. Admittedly, there was some confusion during the ordering in which I share some of the blame. Regardless, Gregory brought me a drink on the house to compensate.
Tellingly, we were dining at The Library with friends when the recent windstorm came through. Although the lights went out just before our entrees arrived, the staff never missed a beat and we continued through dessert bathed in the warm glow of candlelight.
The bottom line
While some of the dishes are exceptional, I think The Library could really step it up by cutting back on some of the sauces and focusing on additional seasonings. Nevertheless, my visits were like getting reacquainted with an old friend and hoping to do a better job of staying in touch in the years ahead.
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