I've driven by Splendor Bistro's innocuous, green yin-yang sign a number of times, and must admit, I was more confused than enticed by the idea of a gourmet restaurant with a drive-thru. No matter how fancy the wrapper, something is always decidedly un-gourmet about eating lunch at a stoplight while scraping strings of lettuce off the steering wheel. But Splendor was, splendidly, not what I had expected.
Splendor offers something for everyone. It combines a get-up-and-go coffee shop with a need-something-quick deli and a wind-down-with-wine-and-pasta bistro. Though the place does more take-out business than dine-in, the interior is charming and thoughtfully designed—more rolled-cloth-napkin than springy-paper-napkin-dispenser. Their small-ish menu is peppered with traditional light-lunch fare: soups, salads, sandwiches and paninis. Though they serve breakfast, Splendor's new owners have decided to start opening a little later to focus on lunch and the still-evolving dinner menu.
On a recent windy, early fall afternoon, my lunch date and I turned off State Street into Splendor's empty parking lot to check out the place. To our surprise, there was a quaint, shaded outdoor patio and ample seating inside visible through the restaurant's floor-to-ceiling windows. To make the most of the afternoon, we took a seat outside under the canopy of a giant oak tree and waited for our server. We were greeted with two tall, bamboo-shaped glasses of ice water and fresh lemon. My lunch date and I glanced guiltily at the wine list, then each other, and ordered two glasses of the Ferrari-Carano Fume Blanc ($7). It was going to be one of those afternoons.
As we sat sipping the dry, crisp white with grapefruit accents, my sandwich-loving friend (a self-proclaimed "sandbitch") gave the menu a once over. With selections like Sarah's smokin' chicken salad with Parmesan cheese, pine nuts and basil ($7.95) or the Cowabunga panini with roast beef, red peppers, bleu cheese and horseradish ($7.95), she knew she was in for a stacked bread and meat treat. Always a sucker for a salad in heels, I ordered Janet's tuna salad on a bed of field greens ($7.95), which the menu entertainingly described as "lunchbox fare, all dressed up." After prolonged contemplation, my friend decided on the Thanksgiving sandwich ($7.95), a hearty combination of turkey breast, herbed cream cheese and cranberry on marbled rye bread.
After a few slugs of wine and an abbreviated conversation about how State Street's screeching traffic was strangely inaudible from the patio, our fresh and colorful meal was gleaming before us. Though we were the restaurant's only patrons, the speedy arrival of our food seemed to be more of a standard than an anomaly. A couple of bites into the festive green, yellow and red pepper-laden potato salad and it became apparent that Splendor's cuisine is not merely healthy sounding. Unlike most of its mayonnaise mottled peers, the potato salad came lightly tossed with dressing, crunchy celery, fresh dill and new potatoes. The tuna salad was similarly light on mayo, which allowed the interesting flavor combinations of dill, cilantro, cracked pepper and garlic to shine through. My lunch date's turkey sandwich kept the established precedent, with a light, herby smear of cream cheese that accentuated, rather than masked, the tart cranberry and flavorful sliced turkey breast. In a culinary climate in which salads and sandwiches are billed as "fresh, healthy alternatives" but can pack the caloric punch of bacon-wrapped Turducken, it's nice for a meal to taste as fresh and good for you as it sounds.
With every last crunchy vegetable put away, my lunch date and I gave ourselves a congratulatory pat on the back for being so enviously healthy, then ordered the most decadent desert on the menu: the three layered, whipped cream topped, dark and white chocolate mousse cake ($3.95). And damn, was it good.
—Tara Morgan prays the gods of fake meat will soon invent a tofurken.