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A culinary oasis, Rosemary adds flavor with its menu surprises

In a small building just north of the clamorous intersection of San Mateo and Montgomery NE, the restaurant Rosemary hails you with a large ornamental representation of its namesake herb over the entrance.

The small space inside is serene and unfussy.

Shrimp served with deconstructed pesto at Rosemary. At left is a side of french fries. (Richard S. Dargan/For The Journal)

The menu fits on a sheet of paper but cuts a wide swath, offering thoughtfully prepared comfort food and more refined fare, with an emphasis on local sourcing.

Macaroni and cheese shares the menu with risotto and roasted mushrooms; pork chops coexist with agave-ginger-glazed salmon. Vegan and gluten-free options are plentiful.

Eggplant adovada ($8) arrives under a mound of avocado salsa in a narrow bowl, the plate underneath piled with slices of the root vegetable jicama. The cubed eggplant holds up well to the smoky, spicy adovada flavors. You could easily be convinced that it’s a meat-based dish. A spoonful of eggplant and salsa on a crisp, slightly sweet jicama wedge is a superb bite. There’s not enough avocado salsa, though, to make the experience last.

Rosemary’s version of a burger ($11), fashioned from a blend of brisket and chuck favored for its beefy flavor and fat content, is outstanding. The chewy bun is made from a byproduct of beer brewing called spent grain, a reflection of the restaurant’s commitment to achieving sustainability without sacrificing quality.

A classic New Mexico combination is showcased in the pork chop ($21) smothered in green chile queso. If you’ve ever had to masticate your way through a dry pork chop, then you’ll especially appreciate this moist, bone-in version.

Seafood offerings include a row of plump shrimp served with deconstructed pesto ($19). The components of the sauce – garlic, basil, piñon nuts and Parmesan cheese – are sautéed in olive oil rather than processed into an emulsion. It’s a simpler, lighter approach that leaves you unconvinced that pesto was ever meant to be deconstructed.

Entrees comes with two sides; burgers and sandwiches, one. As befitting a self-professed “plant forward” restaurant, vegetables such as baby carrots and charred asparagus are excellent. The small dessert menu includes two scoops of housemade ice cream ($4), and a lovely lemon mascarpone tarte – imagine a richer, less sour-tasting cheesecake – with sliced strawberries fanned across it.

Rosemary is trying to get a liquor license. Meanwhile, you can try one of its many variations of lemonade. I had hoped to, but my drink order disappeared into the ether.

The oversight was emblematic of a perfunctory level of service that was not up to the level of the food that night.

Minor glitches aside, Rosemary is a welcome addition to a patch of real estate where the typical dining experience consists of grabbing a bag of fast food at the drive-through window. This locally owned and operated restaurant offers a level of dining that makes it worth running the San Mateo-Montgomery gantlet.

3 stars