Friday, October 26, 2007

trying, but not there yet

For my day-after-birthday dinner, my Dad, his wife Cathy and their little girl D took Banana and me out for dinner. I'd suggested Northside Grille, one of two new restaurants on Richmond's North Side, and a place that has gotten some pretty good press of late. It is also billed as a very kid-friendly restaurant, and was convenient to where they would be anyway.

Walking in, I was impressed by the room. It's wide-open, with jumbo-sized booths lining either wall, and a U-shaped bar taking up the center of the room. Business seemed brisk, even though it was early on a rainy evening. Many of the tables were occupied by families, and the noise level was manageable. So far, so good.

Then the service started. It took several minutes before our server appeared. When she appeared, everything about her demeanor said she wasn't go to bring much sunshine to the table. She took the drink orders briskly--dad and Cathy each ordered from their wine list, which was moderately priced and had some fairly interesting wines by the glass. I asked what the seasonal tap was, and was a little bummed to hear that it was the Sam Adams Winter Ale. We're not even out of October, for crying out loud. Anyway, her irritation grew as I went back to the menu to figure out what I wanted. Not a good start.

We took a while to order, which can be irritating for servers. Still, she made no further efforts at helping us, and in fact seemed a bit frustrated when we asked about the specials. The way she kept glancing out the window, you'd think she had far better things to do than wait on us. Had I been picking up the tab, her tip would have dropped below 15 percent already.

When we did order, the adults all got Roasted Red Pepper soup. It was a hit--freshly made and with just enough spice to cut through a chilly evening. Things went down hill when the rest of the food arrived, however. Cathy had ordered a cheese quesadilla for D, but what came out was a full-on chicken and bean quesadilla, not exactly six-year old-friendly. The manager was quick to take care of the problem, however. Dad's burger was large and tasty. Cathy's salad was fine. For my entree, however, I had ordered the pork chops--"grilled and topped with caramelized peaches and a balsamic drizzle"--which sounded good, and about which I had read a good review. Instead of caramelized peaches, however, the line cook had put some canned peaches on top of the chops. The balsamic drizzle was nowhere to be seen, either. The sides--roasted red potatoes and grilled slices of zucchini and yellow squash--were good, but lukewarm. The chops were tough and seemed to have been cooked before being tossed on the grill for a quick bit of flame. Had our window for dinner been longer, I would have sent the plate back. It was mediocre at best, and certainly not worth $16. It's sad, really, because I had been looking forward to the meal.

The Northside Grille hasn't lost me yet. The place is kid-friendly and smoke-free, two big pluses. Clearly they need to even out their work in the kitchen. It would also be great to see them pull something out that doesn't seem like pure Sysco products. Several other restaurants in the area do--the Mamma Zu's empire, for example--and it would be nice to see this place differentiate itself from other cookie-cutter places by offering more than a stock menu and a smoke-free atmosphere.