Steve and Nancy Rosetti opened The Faithful Pilot Café & Spirits, located at 117 North Cody Road in LeClaire, in 1991. Voted on several occasions as one of the area's most romantic restaurants in the River Cities' Reader's "Best of the Quad Cities" poll, the Faithful Pilot remains a favorite local destination.

I have always enjoyed the casually elegant ambiance at Faithful Pilot, with décor that is simple but with a European accent. French and Italian posters adorn the walls, and each table is graced with a small vase of flowers and a candle. While dining, we enjoyed cool jazz as background music.

All breads are made on the premises, and the bread basket that one receives at the beginning of the meal is a delicious introduction for what is to come. My favorite was the signature orange fennel rye bread, which I mistook to be New England brown bread because of its dark color and rich molasses flavor.

For an appetizer I ordered the crab and artichoke dip served with toasted tortilla tips ($9), and my husband, Howard, ordered the Prince Edward Isle mussels ($17). The dip was creamy and cheesy, and the artichoke in it was roasted, giving the dish an earthy, smoky flavor. The portion was generous, but the dip was so good that I had to eat every bite; it was just that addictive.

The mussels were highly praised by Howard, who hails from New Zealand and was raised on fresh seafood - especially mussels. He said they were sweet, tender, and juicy - very flavorful. The broth they came in was aromatic, and I detected the exotic flavor of saffron and the familiar taste of chicken broth. I was not far off. According to Chef Joseph Thibodeaux, it is prepared with a combination of chicken broth and clam juice, seasoned with saffron, and garnished with tomatoes and parsley. It was great for dipping bread into.

For an entrée Howard ordered the New Zealand rack of lamb served with wild rice, corn, and lima beans ($27). The lamb was adorned with rich gravy made with port and shallots that are then strained from the sauce. Then a demi-glace is made with the addition of Boetje's mustard. The meat had a pleasantly light - not gamey - flavor. Lamb is sometimes greasy, but I was pleasantly surprised that this was not. The wild rice was seasoned in a salty Uncle Ben's fashion and, according to the chef, it was also minted. The corn and lima beans were cooked to just the right firmness.

I ordered the vegetarian crêpes stuffed with ricotta, Parmesan, and mozzarella cheeses, red onion, Kalamata olives, artichoke hearts, and summer squash ($17). In keeping with its efforts to make dishes as natural as possible (without using many factory-processed ingredients), Faithful Pilot participates in the "Buy Fresh, Buy Local" program, and the Rosettis shop at the local farmer's markets for fresh ingredients. With this in mind, I anticipated a flavorful dish.

The crêpes were served with a hearty marinara sauce garnished with Swiss chard but, unfortunately, the sauce overpowered the delicate stuffing of the crêpes, and the Swiss chard seemed out-of-place with the other ingredients. The marinara was very good, but I really wanted to taste the cheese and vegetable mixture (I could feel the crunch of the squash and caught the essence of the Kalamata olives). I thought the crêpes might fare better with a lighter béchamel or a Greek lemon sauce that would complement rather than dominate the dish.

We drank a bottle of New Zealand Brancott 2004 Sauvignon Blanc ($30) with our meal. The Brancott Vineyard, located in Marlborough on the tip of New Zealand's North Island, produces some very fine wines. This particular bottle had a refreshing undertone of passion fruit. The Faithful Pilot's wine list is lengthy and well-rounded, including wine by the glass, half bottle, and full bottle, with prices for full bottles ranging from $23 to $75.

The last time I ate at the restaurant was several years ago, when I sampled the Sunday brunch. I ordered the eggs Benedict, which I remember being small but tasty with a wonderful Hollandaise sauce. The brunch menu has a variety of sweet breakfast dishes - including pancakes, crêpes, and French toast - as well as quiche, omelets, and sandwiches.

Other features on the limited but sophisticated dinner menu appeal to both meat-eaters and vegetarians - such as the popular pappardelle pasta with mushrooms, spinach, pine nuts, tomatoes, basil pesto, and Gorgonzola and Parmesan cheeses for $16. Thibodeaux said that this dish has been on the menu in some form or other since the restaurant opened. He also said that he changes the menu regularly and is responsible for about 90 percent of the selections, with input from Steve Rosetti. The new dishes are sampled by the waitstaff for final approval.

The menu also emphasizes seafood, including three seafood appetizers and five seafood entrées (including salmon, yellow-fin tuna, shrimp, and scallops).

Faithful Pilot offers four different salads (including a spinach and a beet root) ranging in price from $5 to $9.

We were too full to sample desserts but one can have homemade crème brulée, tiramisu, New York cheesecake, flourless chocolate torte, and, in summer, gelati and sorbet.

 

Online Wine Store Makes Choosing Easier

I tend to feel overwhelmed when shopping for wines at the local grocery or liquor store, buying the same wines over and over because I don't know where to begin when choosing a new wine. Faithful Pilot's new wine Web site (http://www.FPWineOnline.com) helps take some of the angst out of wine purchasing.

Proprietor Steve Rosetti is used to helping his customers choose wines both for consumption at the Faithful Pilot and at home. He describes his wine Web site as "a casual offshoot of the restaurant" and a practical way for his customers to choose wines. He can also better respond to their questions about wine when he sits down at the computer with just that goal in mind, rather than hurriedly answering them at the restaurant.

Other goals for the Web site are to pare down wine choices (he features 20 to 24 different wines a month); to offer wines at less than retail prices; and to provide a delivery service for a small fee. Steve posts wines that he has already tested and paired with foods, and that may be hard to find at a local grocery or liquor store. Additionally, because he has no inventory (he orders the wine as his customers' orders come in), he has little overhead and can afford to sell below retail prices.

The Web site is attractively designed with simple, clean graphics in red, green, and beige. The icons are self-explanatory. My favorite section is "Wine 101," which briefly describes the most common varietals and gives hints, such as which wine glass to use and at what temperature to serve it. There is also a calendar for the monthly Sunday wine tastings at the Faithful Pilot.

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