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Play It Again, Fuad
"So what can I cook for you?" Small and dark and foursquare, chef Joseph peered at us through the eternal twilight of Fuad's dining room, which might have been transported directly from some long-forgotten corner of Manhattan. "What do you have?" we dithered, as Frank Sinatra crooned tinnily from the sound system. "Whatever you want," the chef replied unhelpfully. "Shrimp, veal, salmon, pasta..." It was pop quiz time, and we were flunking.

Nobody else was. Indeed, the narrow Briargrove room was peopled by regulars who knew Joseph, and each other, and the score. "You always have the best caesar salad in town," gushed the woman next to us. We had come on a nostalgic lark, remembering that Fuad's in another lifetime had been the only place in town where unreconstructed "continental food" -- dread appellation! -- was actually worth eating, bright with lemon and garlic and a certain je ne sais quoi. One hundred dollars later (Fuad's was never cheap), we were forced to admit that the verve had fled. Big scampi lacked their erstwhile punch; veal piccata had none of its old strut. The marinara on fat spaghetti that Joseph chose for us was nothing special.

Oh, there were a few reminders of glories past. The Lebanese appetizer plate still boasts one of the liveliest versions of baba ghanouj in town; its steak tartare (kibbeh gone international) remains pure and simple, just as it should be in a place whose name is the Middle Eastern version of "Fred's." The bananas Foster, concocted tableside with leaping flames and melodramatic orange-peeling, is alive with citrus, still outrageously good.

Disappointments be damned -- we had a swell time. That's because as full-bore scenes go, Fuad's is as exotic as a trip to New Guinea. Unnaturally pneumatic babes of a certain age (off-duty er... dancers?) paraded through on the arms of mature guys who have yet to surrender their neck chains. Woo was pitched in the clubby bar; the mating dance was performed at shadowy tables. No wonder the garlic level had shrunk along with the wattage! In a secluded corner, a Fabio clone spoke into a cellular phone as his date looked on admiringly. "Faux-bio," goggled my companion. "I did it my way," sang Sinatra.

-- Alison Cook

Fuad's Restaurant, 6100 Westheimer, 785-0130.

 
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