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Strip Mall Transcendence 

Mayfield's offers bistro charm and quality

As Robert Frost might have said, "Something there is that doesn't love a mall." Well, OK, Frost was writing about walls that divide neighbors, and walls that unite neighbors, and I'm talking about strip malls. Strip malls: the commercial epicenter in every new development; the cluster of those familiar shops that are the same whether you're in California, Colorado or Kalamazoo; the antithesis of neighborhood identity; and the crowning glory of our car culture.

Who would expect to find a neighborhood bistro in a strip mall? The Village Center Mall at Vindicator and Rockrimmon amid the usual mall suspects -- fast food joints, dry cleaners, travel agencies -- has a library branch and, mirabile dictu!, Mayfield's.

Lunches are packed at Mayfield's and with good reason. A filling and tasty meal can be had for under $10. Five pasta dishes, as many salads, and some substantive sandwiches, most featuring juicy grilled chicken, round out the lunch options. The day's specials might include a quiche/salad combo, a Caesar crowned with blackened grouper, or another variant of a grilled chicken sandwich, like the one with bacon, cheddar, Monterey Jack, lettuce and tomato on crusty French bread that we tried.

Sit outside in the sheltered patio area, order up some Almond Chicken Salad atop a bed of spinach, sip some iced tea, and imagine that afternoon in the office just got cancelled.

The dinner menu is more interesting, and vaguely international. From Italy we have Veal Marsala, Veal Picatta, and Spaghetti and meatballs. Francophiles can choose Filet mignon Au Poivre or Canard Aux Framboises. A Southwestern influence is evident in the Chipotle Pork Chop and Cilantro Chicken Quesadilla. Seafood lovers of any nationality can enjoy salmon, crab cakes, oysters, lobster tail (from Australia, not New England) and shrimp. It's all a little unnerving. Is the chef trying to cover too many bases? Chef Jos Lemus (formerly at the Woodmoor Country Club -- their loss) seems to offer something for every palate, an ambitious and laudatory goal.

We started with the chicken quesadilla and tiger shrimp bruschetta appetizers. Presentations of these dishes as well as all subsequent dishes were lovely: colorful, careful, architectural. The shrimp on the bruschetta, however, still had their tails on and the bread was disappointingly soggy, making this appetizer more of a challenge than we needed that early in the meal.

There are five offerings for the salad course: Balsamic Grilled Vegetables on Polenta ($7.95), a Fruit Plate with Sorbet or Cottage Cheese (where did that tired item come from?), Mayfield's House Salad (two sizes, $3.50 or $5.95), Mayfield's Caesar and the oddly named New Born Spinach Salad. I prefer not to anthropomorphize any baby spinach I'm about to eat.

The salads we tried were terrific. The spinach salad ($8.50) had a sweet and tangy dressing, lots of bacon, blue cheese and hard-boiled egg, not too much red onion, and perfect spinach leaves. The Caesar ($8.75) had chopped tomato, odd to see on a Caesar, and not enough croutons or shredded cheese for the rookie we brought along with us for his Food Team tryout, but the rest of us gobbled it up anyway. The dressing was particularly tasty, neither cloying nor overly acidic.

Our young server was amazed at the quantity of food we ordered which might explain some inconsistencies and omissions in what he brought. Why, for example, would one of the main course selections come with soup or salad but not all the main course choices? Well-trained, committed waitstaff are scarce in this town, and staffing frustrations must keep restaurateurs awake at night. Don't let it keep you away from Mayfield's, but expect a few bumps.

The one soup we got, Southern Corn Bisque, was good enough to swim in. Thick and rich, flavored with cumin, garnished with little bits of tortilla, green onion and swirls of sour cream, it was a plate-licker.

On to our entrees. The seafood selection of the day sounded too good to pass up: grouper with a delicate buttery sauce and three accompanying shrimp. The grouper was perfect: succulent, sweet, mild. The Canard Aux Framboises was less perfect. Though the raspberry sauce was terrific, the duck breast itself was greasy and bland.

We had better luck with the Chicken Cordon Bleu, served over lentils and finished with a delectable demi-glace. The flavors of the Gruyre and smoky ham inside the chicken danced with the earthy lentils. Provincial cooking at its finest. These entrees came with grilled vegetables brushed with balsamic vinegar. We fought over the carrots.

With the Shrimp Mesa Verde, Chef Jos elevates a simple pesto dish into something more complex. He tops fettuccine with sauted shrimp, bell peppers and mushrooms, and finishes the dish with a pesto mellowed with cream and white wine. Simple, elegant, tasty.

Through various owners, Mayfield's has called itself a wine bar though the wine list is adequate but nothing special. There's an appearance by the usual Australian suspects: Black Opal, Lindeman's, and some lesser-known California vineyards, but the range in quality and price is rather limited. Here is another opportunity for Mayfield's to bring innovation and delight to Rockrimmon, having already done so much to enhance its little strip mall home.

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