Ladies and gentlemen: In the starting lineup we have the St. Paul Grill, Pazzaluna, the 128 Cafe, Zander, Mildred Pierce, the Dakota, and the Vintage! Last bets? Bet them if you've got them. Betting is closed. And they're off! The St. Paul Grill is dazzling with décor and steaks and potatoes, but--ooh!--fumbles on a staid menu and blasé desserts. Pazzaluna starts strong with that snazzy bar, but--oh no!--lackluster cuisine throws them from the race. So the contenders are neck and neck, neck and neck! And the Vintage drops out to attend to its inconsistency problems. And 128 and Mildred Pierce veer off because they're just really nice neighborhood bistros with modest wine lists and never wanted to run in these high-stakes races anyway! So it's Zander and the Dakota, the Dakota and Zander--neck-and-neck, ladies and gentlemen! Neck-and-neck! And they're both in it to win! Will Zander take the lead with its brilliant wine list and breathtaking cuisine and uncomfortable dining room--or will it be the Dakota's cushy jazz mansion, epic beverage selection, and excellent though less inspired food? It's a photo finish that has to be called by the refs, and Zander takes it only because we're more curious about what dazzling gifts will emerge from the kitchen than we are in coddled dining pleasure--though if you said we were nuts, you wouldn't be entirely wrong.


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