Nov. 5 2003 12:00 AM

RETURN OF NUTRI-GIRL Blast from the past comes back to haunt one more meal

    715 4th Avenue
    3 Forks

    Detached objectivity was going to be hard to come by. For the first time in nine months, I was meeting Nutri-Girl for dinner. My three faithful readers (Hi, Dad!) will no doubt remember Nutri-Girl as the world-weary ex-girlfriend whose movie-star looks and impossibly difficult food criteria has brought many men in the service industry to tears.

    Sitting at the pleasantly hip and swank Seven-17 bar, my strategy was to eat as much as possible before Nutri-Girl arrived. Later, I planned to feign absolute indifference to her, the food and everything else. Ideally, I wanted to pass out. I slammed another drink. My heart racing, I quickly ordered a trio of not particularly nutritious appetizers, half-priced for happy hour.

    The sushi roll showed admirable restraint, with only the thinnest tempura coating, but the accompanying ramekin of gooey-sweet ponzu sauce was overpowering. The Portobello was thick and meaty, though the crab stuffing could have been chunkier and spicier, to my taste. But the real miscue was the buttery, coagulated cheese sauce, which reduced the dish to a fancy patty-melt.

    The delicate scallops were seared until just opaque, and served astride a simple green salad. Of course, what the menu called a "light" butter sauce gave me flashbacks to my recurring "Forever Fondue" nightmare. Have you noticed a pattern? I envisioned three chefs working in an assembly line: the first cooking everything to perfection, the second painstakingly assembling the plate, and the third, a recent graduate from the E. L. Fudge culinary school, draping the dish in any one of a variety of impossibly heavy-handed sauces.

    I could forgive the heavy-handedness-hey, at least they were trying-but surely Nutri-Girl would not be as lenient. And there she was, standing over me, waiting to be hugged.

    "Have you been waiting long?"

    Six months!, I wanted to shout, then maybe throw my beer at the bar and storm out. I don't think I did that. To be honest, I don't remember much of anything, except that her sweater was very fuzzy. In fact, I may have lost consciousness.

    When I came to, I was on the patio, picking at a Seven-17 salad, and listening to stories about her dating life.

    "Look, bad food combining," she said, popping a mouthful of raspberries and bitter greens.

    The salad was a good mix of bad food combining: candied pecans, berries and generous Gorgonzola cheese. Of course, they felt the need to wilt the mish-mash with a flood of vinaigrette dressing.

    Like the sushi roll, the lamb-chop appetizer came next to, rather than swimming in, sauce. The exceptionally tender lamb meat needed none-tart Stilton cheese provided the perfect accompaniment. Nutri-Girl launched into another story about a date with some mannerless cretin. I grunted as I gnawed the lamb bones clean.

    My entrée was a contrarian play: the pork chop stuffed with andouille sausage, mushrooms and oysters. Nutri-Girl barely batted an eye. Then, without so much as a question about free-range organic quinoa, she ordered the special: pancetta-wrapped tournedos, medium rare, with the mushroom-blue cheese-brandy sauce on the side.

    "Nutrition is important," she said, handing over the menu, "but it isn't everything."

    The steaks were tender and flavorful, with dollops of blue cheese providing all the dressing they needed and more. We all but ignored the shockingly sharp and sweet brandy sauce. My visually impressive but slightly overcooked chop, meanwhile, was coated head-to-toe in a "chorizo chile pesto," a sort of thick, dull barbecue sauce.

    For dessert, the mousse-filled crepes were dominated by a too-powerful raspberry paste, while the bread pudding, which came recommended, was the one case where the kitchen could have amped up the flavor a bit. Maybe they used up all the brandy in that mushroom sauce.

    By all means, seek out Seven-17. Added bonus: the kitchen stays open until midnight, making this one of the few places you can bring a late-dinner date. Hopefully, that Keebler elf in the kitchen will get the ax sometime soon. Until then, take a cue from Nutri-Girl, and order the sauce on the side. ©

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