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DINING OUT

Well worth the wait for Jazzwine

Shanahan's Jazzwine Grille

361 Middlesex Road, Tyngsborough

Dinner: Monday-Wednesday, 4 to 9 p.m.; Thursday-Saturday, 4 to 10 p.m.

Lunch: Thursday and Friday, 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Sunday brunch, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Reservations recommended

Major credit cards accepted

978-649-1105

www.jazzwinegrille.com

The last time I dined at this location, in the 1980s, it was called Bogie's and was one of my favorites. But it changed owners and eventually devolved into the strip club Matthew's, which closed in 2003. The building took on its new life as Jazzwine Grille in February.

Three of us visited Jazzwine on a Saturday night, knowing that the previous two weeks of nonstop rain could make for a long wait for frustrated diners who wanted to get out and do something. Be sure to call early for reservations. When I called at 5:30, no 7 p.m. seatings were available, and we landed a 7:30 spot only because someone had canceled.

In stark contrast to Matthew's blackened exterior, the new facility is airy and has floor-to-ceiling window panels . But the open acoustics and hardwood floors with no rugs make for loud conversation .

Friends who had tried the restaurant soon after it opened had given it mixed reviews. But by the night we sampled the place, Jazzwine had clearly hit its stride.

Our charming server took the guesswork out by including the prices of the specials . The surf and turf on the regular menu sported an 8-ounce New York sirloin with two baked stuffed shrimp and baked potato ($26). That option was replaced for the evening by swapping the shrimp for a lobster tail ($40). Gauging from the serving I saw on another diner's plate , that was some impressive portion of lobster.

As always, my husband started with New England clam chowder ($6), which proved as reliable a choice here as anywhere. I opted for the four clams casino ($8). It offered a nice balance of breading and substance .

The star of the show -- which actually made the entire dinner memorable -- was the fried calamari ($8) that our son ordered. ``I don't know how it can get any more perfect than that," he exclaimed. The breading was light, the squid soft yet cooked, and the flavoring spiced with a faint kick. None of us had ever had such great calamari.

For his main course, my husband's prime rib special ($26) was pink and thick, and filled an entire platter, graced by a light au jus. It was so tender that even a butter knife seemed like overkill. The only minor concern is that it wasn't as hot as he would have preferred. Vegetables (green beans amandine that night) were provided in a separate dish.

Our son enjoyed the grilled marinated tenderloin tips ($17). The portion was generous, with the meat grilled just so. It was as if the blend of ginger, soy, and herbs had soaked through the meat from the inside out, yielding a succulent and flavorful delight.

I was knocked out by my Chilean sea bass ($22). The consistency was very much like lobster, with similar flavor and substance, yet it flaked easily. As with the calamari, the bass had us asking, ``How did they DO that?" This fish was the stuff that dreams are made of, moistened with a buttery garlic broth and served over spinach.

When we had eaten our fill and then some, we carefully set aside every remaining mouthful for a doggie bag.

The dessert list is always changing . Choices included coconut cake, carrot cake, cheesecake, a decadent chocolate cake, the ``ultimate" version of the chocolate cake with nuts, apple crisp, and other mouth-watering specialties.

As the waiter promised, Jazzwine's version of tiramisu ($7) was made of layers that were more like cake than the traditional confection, moistened in a liqueur and separated by a layer of custard. The effect was pure joy, not as sweet and syrupy as usual. I didn't get to enjoy much of it because my companions kept sampling my dessert.

Revenge came when we analyzed our son's fried ice cream ($6). A crisp cocoon flavored with coconut ensconced a snowball-shaped portion of Häagen-Dazs vanilla, resting on a pool of molten chocolate. Both desserts arrived on chilled plates, graced with a hefty dollop of whipped cream.

Unlike most diners, we neglected the extensive wine list . No loss, as the food was outstanding.

One owner's mother, Bridget, made the rounds introducing herself as patrons were finishing their meals. She said the owners hail from a family of restaurateurs. Patrick and Marybeth Shanahan own Jazzwine as well as the Dream Diner across the street. Bridget's sisters run the legendary Owl Diner, the quintessential blue-collar eatery in Lowell.

NANCY V. BURNS

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