Say cheese

M3 lamb chops come complete with seasonal vegetables, balsamic fig butter and mascarpone polenta.

M3 lamb chops come complete with seasonal vegetables, balsamic fig butter and mascarpone polenta.

Photo/Allison Young

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M3 Restaurant has only been open a few weeks, but you’d think it’s a long-established favorite. The latest effort of an experienced family of restaurateurs, it’s best described as an upscale, new American cuisine bar and grill, i.e. a gastropub. The place was packed on a weeknight—always a good sign.

The atmosphere is a mix of sophisticated design and rustic, country kitchen, as though you’re dining at Granny’s table in the old country and Granny has excellent taste. There are a handful of TVs displaying sports programming, but with the audio muted I didn’t really notice them. Service is above average, friendly and efficient. Food and drink are well-paced, and the staff work as a team. For me, service this good is the best sauce for any meal.

My group came hungry, so I got to try a lot of dishes. With new soups made daily, the cream of artichoke and mushroom was a must-try ($4 cup). Fresh dairy was readily apparent, a standout when so many cream soups are rushed and thickened with starch. This mix of garden flavors and seasoning made for a hell of a start.

The M3 quesadilla ($11) is an almost flaky, crispy flour tortilla stuffed with andouille and chorizo sausages, roasted red peppers, red onions, cilantro cream and melted cheese, served with a sweet and spicy fruit salsa. Inspirational. Maybe one of the best things ever.

Doubling down on cheese were stuffed risotto balls ($9), which combined the classic rice dish with fresh-water mozzarella and panko crumbs, served deep-fried with a tomato bisque dipping sauce. We could have eaten a bowl of that sauce, and the rest was literally “amazeballs.”

Fried calamari ($10) is easy to overcook, but these were tender morsels in a crispy, seasoned coating, with sweet chili dipping sauce. So simple, yet so satisfying.

Moving on to the comfort food, we had tender prime rib Stroganoff ($13), with wide egg noodles, Parmesan, fresh herbs, and a dollop of sour cream. The flavor was more subtle than expected and could have used a bit more meat. A dash of salt and pepper helped bring it a bit more into “hearty” territory.

There’s cheese and then there’s white mac ’n’ cheese ($10), a blend of white cheddar, fontina, fresh-water mozzarella, and asiago combined with classic macaroni al dente and baked in a cast iron skillet with a toasted panko topping. Creamy, cheesy, heart-stopping. A basil Parmesan loaf came with both noodle dishes. Fine enough, but it would be better served warm.

More cheese? You bet. The M3 house burger ($10) was basic, yet not. It was served on a handmade, grilled bun with lettuce, tomato, and onion layered under an Angus beef patty and a choice of cheese (in this case, gorgonzola). Ordered medium by the diner, the burger wasn’t as juicy as it could have been, but the flavor was solid. A choice of sides was available—a mixed-green salad with tangy balsamic dressing, in this case.

Fish and chips with tartar sauce ($11) were exactly that: skin-on, pub-style chips with beer-battered white fish and a housemade sauce with an almost-hollandaise thing going on. Simple and delicious.

The marinated lamb chops ($18) were anything but simple, finished in balsamic fig butter and served with mascarpone polenta and seasonal vegetables. The polenta was creamy yet chunky, a perfect side for medium-rare meat. I went caveman and gnawed every bit of savory succulence off those bones.

Rounding things out, the manager did her job, talking my wife and I into a German chocolate brownie with vanilla ice cream ($8). The dessert was served nice and warm in an earthenware crock, and nice and warm is exactly how we felt as we headed home.