In the food category, the mark is met. Our dishes were generally well-prepared, even exceptional. Service at our table was above average. Andrea, our waitress, was personable, knowledgeable and efficient.
If the interior design is not a match for the food, well, we heard changes are in the works to address that. Schoenberger's recently has changed hands. Past owner Bill Wagner, serving customers from behind the bar, said the new owners were updating the decor. They started in the dining room.
The room's look is low-budget upscale. New light fixtures and flat walls of muted gold and green in the dining room were complemented by heavy drapes and oversize mirrors with gilt frames. A new carpet would soon be on the floor, Wagner said, and maybe art on the walls. Unfortunately, what riveted my companion's eye were the stark white ventilation ducts.
The smoking area is nicely laid out, a combination of intimacy (courtesy of dim lighting) and long views. Tables placed along the edges of the room - around a bannistered stairway leading to the unusual upstairs banquet room - leaves the space open in the middle of the room. Diners have a clear view of the 3/4-square bar and of friends and neighbors entering the restaurant.
Tables and upholstered chairs have a somewhat dated 1960s dinette look to them - serviceable for a bar setting.
The moody lighting, which lends itself to closeness around the table, is lousy for the decor. It does little to display the fine locally painted watercolors decorating the walls. A couple paintings hung in absolute darkness, indistinguishable from three feet away.
Back at the table, our appetizer and salads showed up, and we stopped gazing and started grazing. I liked the crab imperial with Monterey Jack cheese, grilled on French baguette slices, especially dipped in the accompanying horseradishy sauce. But my companions felt otherwise: "Dry," said one; "These should stand on their own, flavor-wise," said the other, who questioned whether the dipping sauce was actually a mixture of ketchup, mustard and mayonnaise. I snorted. Happily, I had most of the appetizer to myself.
Salads were fresh and nicely sized - not the huge, belly-filling plates of greens some restaurants serve. My spinach salad found favor with my companion, though the dressing was chilled instead of the hot dressing she expected. Her Caesar salad was heavy with dressing.
Next to these, the house salad had a low profile. With black olives, Romano cheese, diced tomatoes and a noteworthy house dressing, it was still a cut above the typical house salad.
We visited Schoenberger's on Saturday night - prime rib night in September. My daughter is a steak fanatic and very demanding. She pronounced her medium rare 14-ounce prime rib excellent: "This is the tenderest steak ever." I agreed that it was tender, though it was pinker (um, rawer-looking) than I prefer.
I like seafood served in creamy sauce, so I ordered the Fortissimo - shrimp, scallops and crabmeat sauted with bits of Italian ham and served in sherry-cream sauce over fettuccine. The dish was well-prepared and satisfying - rich but not gooey, with a variety of flavors - and improved by my addition of the horseradishy sauce from the crab appetizer.
The third member of our party ordered the restaurant's self-proclaimed "signature" dish, the Mix and Match, essentially a customizable surf and turf. Her sirloin filet was "superb," she said, with plenty of sauted mushrooms; her broiled crab cake was plump and moderately seasoned though a bit bready.
The Jamaican chutney that accompanied my daughter's steak left her cold. She prefers her beef straight up. My companion tried the chutney with her beef and loved it. She called the relish "a spicy surprise."
We ordered a red and a white from the wine list, but the outstanding beverage of the evening was a margarita called the Cadillac. My companion liked its good quality liquors, Kosher-salted glass rim and fresh lime wedge.