To me, this shows that the management has their priorities straight. Add a surprisingly impressive beer list, a handful of very tasty dishes and reasonable prices, and what you get is an honest neighborhood restaurant with plenty of appeal.
From the outside, Grafiti Grille is unassuming, nearly unnoticeable. Once inside though, it bears little resemblance to the surrounding strip-mall shopping center. The room rides the line between eye candy and clutter with its undulating banquette and emaciated comic-book figures swimming in a sea of stereophonic Technicolor. The cushions and netting that adorn the columns throughout the room add a bit of "welcome to the harem" to the mix. It is a nice respite, however, from the standard foxhunting prints or "stark deco" that many West End restaurants rely upon. Recent renovations include an extended bar, which seats about a dozen, and a few more funky touches to the environment. Though the look seems a little pushed, at least it doesn't fall into the yawning homogeneity exhibited by much of the competition.
The kitchen does not attempt to be as edgy as the interior decorator. The regular menu is a brief assortment of American traditionals with a few Asian and South of the Border influences. These selections change about every six months, and there are a few specials every night. I was very impressed with the Escolar special ($21.95). This wonderful fish was grilled to medium rare and presented simply, with just a bit of herbed buerre blanc. Not enough restaurants serve this fish, and I applaud Chef David Hughes for offering it. Also pleasing was the peach and green-chili-glazed Duck Breast and Leg Confit ($17.95). Again, a simple but complementary preparation let the duck speak for its own tender self. On the downside, I found the New York Strip ($18.95) too tough, and thought that the Mongolian Style Eggplant Napolean ($12.95) had no pizazz. Appetizers were also about 50-50. I thought the Smoked Duck Spring Rolls ($7.95) with coconut cream and curry oil were excellent, but found the Yukon Gold Gnocchi with shiitakes and sage to be overwhelmed by the latter.
The most impressive menu at Grafiti Grille does not describe food. Their list of import bottled beer is a wonderful surprise. They don't stock 50 to 60 obscurities like a lot of places. They offer about a dozen of the best beers you could ever ask for La Fin Du Monde, Corsendonk, Duvel, Chimay Red, Maudite and Hoegarten are just a few. With prices in the $5 to $8 range, beer fans will feel like they've discovered a miniature gold mine. One observation though: My Maudite was served in the exact glass that the label clearly explains it should not be served in. Don't be afraid to use snifters; some of the beers warrant such treatment.
Grafiti Grill is a nice change in the West End. The food, though not revolutionary, can be very tasty. The room is enough to keep you chatting through dinner, if not all the way home. The beer list warrants careful consideration and frequent dabbling. Most importantly, each member of the staff treats you with genuine hospitality and concern for your comfort. If you're in the neighborhood, you probably already know. If you're not, it's worth the trip to find out. S
Randall Stamper worked in restaurants in Boston, New Orleans and Indiana for seven years and has filled every job from dishwasher to general manager. All his visits are anonymous and paid for by Style.
Grafiti Grille ($$$)
403-B Ridge Road
Lunch Monday - Friday 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.
Dinner Monday - Thursday 5:30 p.m. to 10 p.m., Friday and Saturday 'til 10:30 p.m.
Brunch Sunday with live jazz 10:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.
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