- Instant karma: a selection of appetizers
Hours: Wed.-Sun. 4 p.m.--2 a.m.
Prices: Appetizers $4-8; entrées $12-18
Fare: Organic, largely vegan, versions of international favorites
Atmosphere: Ethnic bistro
Liquor: Limited bar
Smoking: None permitted
It's been several years since the massive Waterfront development opened on the site of the old Homestead Works and, as predicted, its spillover effects on Homestead's beleaguered retail district have been meager -- unless you hail the replacement of the venerable Chiodo's with a Walgreen's as progress.
Last time we ate on Eighth Avenue, it was at a pulsing, over-the-top restaurant-cum-nightclub called the Alexander Graham Bell Café. But that liveliness didn't translate into success, apparently, and now it's gone. In its place is Karma on Eighth, which has recycled some of Alexander's baroque furnishings in a lighter, brighter effort to bring life, lounge, and fine dining to the Avenue.
As the name suggests, this restaurant is about trying to get right with the world, choosing sustainable foods and international preparations whose impact on the planet is soft. Lest this sound more like penance than a fine meal, be assured that the intentions include plenty of flavor -- boursin-crusted chicken and teriyaki-glazed salmon should satisfy your palate, no matter the state of your soul.
However, the night we were there, neither of these dishes was available, trimming the menu choices considerably. As we considered our remaining options, we nibbled on our server's offering of raisin bread -- hearty and sweet, but at odds with the traditional Italian dressing of olive oil and balsamic vinegar. It was disconcerting that the kitchen would choose such a pairing.
Our spirits were lifted by the excellent tofu kebabs, with skewered cubes of grilled bean curd interspersed with zucchini and red bell pepper. Crisped by the grill on the outside, the insides of the tofu chunks were fluffy and airy, and the skewers were simply and effectively seasoned with salt, pepper and fresh lemon.
Bruschetta with basil pesto and caramelized onions had bold flavors, but its textures were off, with the onions cooked into a paste and apparently stale bread toasted to a point of toughness that brooked neither knives nor teeth.
Unable to try the boursin-crusted chicken, Angelique ordered the salmon cake instead. The low proportion of salmon to filler resulted in a slightly dry texture, though she enjoyed the light soy-citrus glaze, the tropical salsa of mango, pineapple, red onion, orange and red pepper, and the inscrutable flavor of the "secret ingredient."
A dining companion's mushroom whole-grain loaf -- another second-choice selection -- was both bland and gummy, its blend of grains a failed attempt to approximate the comforting heartiness of meatloaf and its smattering of mushrooms lending little in the way of flavor.
The shepherd's pie was much more successful, with large shreds of charred chicken breast under a blanket of garlic mashed potatoes that had been ridged with a fork to create crusty peaks and moist valleys. The vegetables inside, a traditional array of peas, carrots and pearl onions, were bright and fresh-tasting. Alas, even this enjoyable dish was underflavored, with the garlic barely apparent in the potatoes and the liquid within a thin, lightly seasoned broth rather than a hearty, thick stew or savory, creamy sauce.
Eighth Avenue in Homestead is surely a place that could use a little good karma. Unfortunately, the Karma it's got could use some improvement.