E2: Emeril's Eatery

THE FOOD: If you don't know chef Emeril Lagasse, you just haven't been paying attention. He's everywhere, from 12 other restaurants (Louisiana to Pennsylvania to Vegas) to TV (his most recent show's on the Hallmark Channel) to grocery stores shelves.

E2 aims to embed his "new New Orleans" flair among more "modern American classics." The problem, on my recent visit, was e-based: execution. A beautifully flavored gumbo of the day, with a modicum of chicken and andouille, would have been the best dish of the night - if it hadn't hit the table completely cool.

It had little competition: an appetizer of Iberico ham arrived hacked (not shaved, as per the menu) into haphazardly thick chunks atop baguette slices warmed to tooth-defying hardness. Trout arrived soggy. Citrus-tea-lacquered duck had all the lushness you'd want, and came with nicely chewy, rich Anson Mills farro, but the duck's thick skin was flabby. A pudding trio went two-for-three: bourbon-butterscotch and chocolate-mocha light and good, coconut overpowered by long strands of the stuff.

THE LOOK: Comfortable is the goal, with servers in plaid and the place carved into approachable areas: bar and a few tables, open kitchen beside main dining room, several areas that could suit groups. There are a few issues: One table near the entrance, for example, looks out onto that huge video screen on the Mint Museum wall opposite the restaurant. The screen glares into the bar area at the best of times, but a table facing it? TV dinner.

THE SERVICE: Our server was friendly, if preoccupied, looking out at other tables while describing dishes and answering questions. We were seated 20 minutes past our reservation time (with empty tables visible and not many waiting), but folks apologized repeatedly. Valet parking is free, a marvelous and smart thing.

DETAILS: 135 Levine Avenue of the Arts; 704-414-4787; e2emerils.com. Dinner 5-10 p.m. Monday-Thursday, to 11 Friday-Saturday. Lunch is scheduled to begin Tuesday, 11 a.m.-2 p.m. weekdays.

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