Review: 26 Cool Addition To Southside Dining

1210 20th St. South
918-0726
www.birminghammenus.com/26/

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By Deborah Lockridge 

26logo.jpgThe new darling of Five Points South is 26, a sister restaurant to George Reis' popular Ocean next door.

Twenty-six offers bistro dining from lunch through late night and takes no reservations. It features an "industrial-chic" décor that's delightfully metropolitan and rather un-Birmingham. (The cool restrooms alone are practically worth the visit.) It's white tablecloth yet casual, fun but also special-occasion-worthy.

Unlike Ocean, which specializes in seafood, 26 offers a variety of foods, mixing Asian, Southwestern, Mediterranean, Southern and other cuisines, often with several influences in the same dish.

A girlfriend and I decided to try 26 for lunch. Our server steered us to a couple of delightful white wines; 26's wine list offered a wonderful selection of wines that aren't the same-old-same-old you see on other menus.

We started out with Spicy Beef & Blue Rangoons ($6.95) and Smoked Chicken, Black Bean Queso Fresco Preserved Lemon Spring Roll ($6.50). Other tempting choices included the Truffle-Scented French Fries with house-made ketchup and the Roasted Roma Tomato Pomodoro Belle Chevre Goat Cheese with flatbread crisp.

We were not disappointed in our selections, which arrived beautifully presented on white rectangular dishes. The rangoons were served with roasted shallots and citrus aioli, both on the side. The beef rangoons were perfectly fried, crispy and hot without being greasy. The roasted, caramelized shallots and the aioli with just a  hint of blue cheese all worked together for a flavor that was sublime.

The spring roll was also perfectly fried, with the smoked chicken flavor assertive without being overwhelming, a hint of preserved lemons adding brightness to the flavors. Another winner.

The appetizers were so incredible that the main dishes ended up being a little bit of a letdown, though still very good.

A Green Tomato, Applewood Smoked Bacon, Goat Cheese and Arugula Egg Tart ($7.95) had a wonderful combination of flavors, with a layer of goat cheese baked in the middle, served with a mesclun salad on the side. However, the light and fluffy egg mixture was perhaps a bit well done and so tall that it was difficult to cut into it without making a mess of the whole thing.

The Grilled Vegetable Sandwich ($8.25) was served on focaccia bread with a side of fresh house made potato chips. The chips were light and crispy and perfectly salted. The sandwich, alas, had an overabundance of a sauce that no only made it impossible to actually pick up the sandwich and eat it, but also obscured the flavors of the vegetables. Perhaps the sauce would have been better served on the side, as the appetizer sauces were. We still managed to eat it all – it's not that it wasn't good, it's just that it could have been even better with less sauce.

Other lunchtime entrée options included a Broken Down Salmon BLT salad on romaine hearts with warm bacon vinaigrette; a Bison Beef Burger with pepper jack cheese, fried green tomato, caramelized shallots and barbecue sauce on a focaccia roll; Flatbread Fish Wrap with crunchy slaw, Manchego cheese, salsa verde, queso fresco and guacamole; Carolina Style BBQ Pork with Macaroni and Cheese Lid; and a 3-Cheese Grilled Cheese with fried farm egg, house made potato chips and wilted greens.

We didn't have room for dessert, but have read great things about the Coconut Lime Buffalo Rock Float. Other options included Chocolate Pot de Crème with Chai Cookies, candied orange people and Grand Marnier whipped cream; and Almond Crème Brulee with Chocolate Almond Biscotti.

The dinner menu features some of the same appetizers, like the rangoons we enjoyed so much, we well as selections such as Roasted Shallot Hummus and Pesto Tapenade; Inside Out Tuna Melon Roll; Kobe Beef Carpaccio; Thai-Spiced Wok Seared Scallops; and Shrimp, Pea and Potato Samosas. You'll find heartier entrees, such as Flat Iron Steak with Yukon Gold Asiago Cakes, basil garlic pesto and wilted arugula; Citrus-Braised Short Ribs with Roasted Garlic Yellow Grits; Wood Roasted Lamb Kabob; Slow Braised Alabama Rabbit with Handmade Pappardelle and wild mushrooms; and Szechwan Pepper Tempura Shrimp with glass noodles baby bok choy and shiitake mushrooms. There are also limited menu options for Mid-Day and Late Night.

With delicious, beautifully presented, creative, high-quality food, along with excellent service and an atmosphere worthy of the big city, 26 is a welcome addition to Five Point's dining scene.

Published October 2006