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Cafe Dejeuner

Many will look to Ashland for their "somewhere special" this Valentine's Day, but a nice, romantic dinner may be closer than that.

Cafe Dejeuner (pronounced DAY-JUH-NAY, and French for "lunch") began offering dinner about nine years ago. The cottagelike restaurant, at 1108 E. Main St. in Medford, easily can be mistaken for a residence or overlooked altogether. Owners Terry and Louise Swenson have been at this location about 15 years and in the catering business, Quality Catering, about 18 years.

Cafe Dejeuner's menu is fairly ubiquitous and, therefore, a safe bet for almost any occasion. I've been to the cafe for weekday lunches, a bridal shower and dinner dates and can't recall a time that I was disappointed in either the food or service.

Between lunch and dinner, I prefer lunch at Cafe Dejeuner. After all, that is its namesake. The lunch menu is longer, portions are larger and the price tag is smaller — between $8.50 and $10.75.

Lunch is offered from 10:30 to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday, and there are specialty sandwiches, burgers, soups, wraps, pastas and salads. The Chinatown chicken salad is one of my favorites, particularly because it comes with asparagus, hard-boiled egg and a side of garlic toast.

Dinner, served from 4:30 to 9 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, was the occasion for my most recent visit. We had the restaurant to ourselves and the waiter's undivided attention for most of the evening.

There are only five starters and nine entrees on the dinner menu, so it didn't take long to make our selection. I chose the beef filet ($25), and my husband, Sean, ordered the braised short ribs ($24).

Entrees come with either a soup or salad. I had hoped for soup, but our waiter didn't mention it, and I didn't ask. In the end, I was glad the soup had been overlooked because the side salad was better than most with lots of color and variety: greens, candied walnuts, feta, red onions, dried cranberries and raspberry-balsamic vinaigrette. Our waiter also brought a basket with four slices of sourdough and oils for dipping.

I'll be honest. I ordered the steak for its side of potatoes au gratin, which turned out to be as good as I'd imagined — thin layers of potato and sharp cheddar that formed a crispy, golden skin on the outside.

Stacked on top of the potatoes were a few braised greens, more crunchy than soft, and a 6- to 7-ounce Angus steak wrapped in a single strip of bacon. I had ordered my steak well-done but forgot to order more sauce to compensate for the drier piece of meat. Next time.

Sean's short ribs were meaty, tender and uncomplicated in a roasted-fennel demi-glace. There were red-potato halves and braised greens on the side.

Portions are small but artistically arranged. We gladly listened to our waiter read the dessert menu, on which there were two types of cheesecake, mud pie with espresso ice cream, a chocolate torte and the cafe's signature creme brulee ($5.50).

We shared the restaurant's creme brulee, which I've had before. Beneath its crispy crust, the custard was silky, sweet and not too runny, although I doubt it would have held its shape without the ramekin.

Desserts, as well as sauces, sides and salads, vary with the seasons, but I'm sure you'll find creme brulee year-round.

Reservations are recommended, particularly on holidays. Call 541-857-1290.

— Teresa Thomas