Mission Impala

Similarly, overly oily and burnt portobello mushrooms and Japanese eggplant were not worthy of the entree with which they were paired, potato-wrapped salmon. But the fillet itself was as thick as my wrist, dense, meaty, flaky, juicy. A thin wrapping of potatoes admirably prevented the loss of moisture, while two sauces -- a barely there leek and a more suitable red wine -- accented the salmon.

Noodles find their way onto the main menu with three dried-pasta standbys augmented by nightly specials. We tried one of the menu entries, a dozen red pepper ravioli filled with smoked mozzarella. The very smoky cheese filling was countered somewhat by a sweet tomato concasse shot through with basil. Unlike most orders of ravioli, which tend to be skimpy, this dish satisfied enormously.

Dessert wasn't an all-around success, given that the mango-polenta souffle we'd ordered at the beginning of the meal (it requires 30 minutes of preparation time) arrived while we were still eating dinner. The kitchen took it back, watched it fall, then prepared a new one -- another 30 minutes. Sadly, it wasn't worth the wait. The polenta made the eggy confection too grainy, and a vanilla sauce tasted more like hot half-and-half.

Timing, as they say, is everything. Opened at the first of the year under partners Ron Tolson, Frank Zimbaro, and chef Lee Klein, the cafe seemed to be hitting its stride, when Klein (who is also the restaurant critic for Ocean Drive magazine -- an odd little conflict of interest) left the restaurant at the end of April. Tolson says the split was amicable and that he and Zimbaro are getting by fine while they interview candidates to replace Klein. Between them the two have almost four decades of food-management experience, so I'm keeping the Impala on my hot list -- at least until the tourists get wind of it.

Side Dish
The only thing I've never loved about Oggi Cafe is its postage-stamp size, which makes it impossible to seat large parties -- or even small ones, for that matter -- without an interminable wait. Now that problem has been unexpectedly solved. My favorite reason to venture forth on the 79th Street Causeway recently opened a sister restaurant on another causeway, the Venetian. The 65-seat Oggi's by the Bay has been heating up the mezzanine level in the Costa Brava Yacht Club, a condominium high-rise at 11 Island Ave. They've even got a banquet room for large parties. An unlikely spot, yes. But the same great Oggi menu. Without the wait. For more information, call 532-3332.

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