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Packed at Saks

The good news: Grille 5115's food is terrific. The bad news: There's no room to eat it.

This kitchen has lots of talent, which makes the lack of evenness hard to explain. The tough things -- the risotto is a good example -- it does well. Why then would it stumble over something as simple as scaloppine? A lack of concentration, perhaps?

I can't offer the excuse that the kitchen was overwhelmed that night, because the restaurant was even busier the first time we ate there, and that meal couldn't have been better. It was all worth it, I thought, paying my bill. Worth the crowding, worth the table-jiggling, worth having to confine ourselves to topics unlikely to offend our neighbors. The crab cake ($8.95), an appetizer, was wonderful. Moist and sweet and golden brown, it's served with a tomato-shrimp coulis studded with rock shrimp. The ravioli ($9.50) were even better. Filled with wild mushrooms and truffles and served in a sage-butter sauce laced with vermouth, their pungency was exquisite. Quite divine. Eating my third, I'm almost certain I saw the face of God. The salmon steak ($17.95) loomed out of a red-pepper sauce and asparagus spears crossed like the swords on an ancient escutcheon. Equally memorable was the grilled red snapper ($18.95). Served on a bed of ratatouille, it was topped with what looked like a hat: a round piece of phyllo dough dusted with pistachios. That hat gave me quite a turn. Set at an angle, it made the fish look jaunty. I'd almost swear it winked at me.

Grille 5115, 5115 Westheimer (in the Galleria Saks), 963-8067.

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