My husband and I tried Graces on Beverly Blvd for dinner last Saturday night. We had reservations and were seated immediately. Their specials menu had twice as many dishes as their regular menu, so it took extra time to absorb all the choices. Like many restaurants of the time, Grace tends to describe dishes in terms of ingredients. This is great if youre a picky eater--you can look down the page and know you like this and dont like that. But if youre hoping for a certain gestalt, or harmony of flavors to hit you, well its quite hard to predict exactly what any particular sum of ingredients will add up to. Looking at the description of herb-crusted halibut--white beans, oven roasted tomatoes, zucchini, apple smoked bacon it reminded me of those Chinese restaurant menus with their understated and off-putting twice-cooked pork, wheat gluten, bok choy. So while here, everything looked good on Graces menu, what bothered me was I just could not picture What the H I was going to eat.
Our waiter was not much help with regard to ordering--I tried a few questions but got little productive response. He did however recommend the halibut over another special scallop dish so that was encouraging. So, because the white beans sounded vaguely Italian and I thought the herbs and bacon should provide lots of contrasting flavors, I went for it. The poor curmudgeon was completely confused by the menu so he figured the New York steak had to be safe. We started by sharing the butter lettuce salad which had a buttermilk dressing, a few blobs of crispy bacon and a couple cherry tomatoes. Its a simple salad and had good ingredients, but no fireworks here. The service overall was minimal, except for constant attempts to top our glasses with more mineral water from the bottle we ordered.
My halibut was a cell phone-size portion, white and perfectly cooked. However it came atop an inch or so of dishwatery broth containing a few large white beans, a few large green lima-looking beans (fava perhaps?) some spinach-type greens, and an odd sundried tomato or two. No bacon or zucchini was discernable. It all had a pleasant lentil taste, but was in no way what I had imagined (shades of Campanile again...?). The halibut had barely a smear of green pesto on top which gave it a bit of flavor, otherwise there wasnt much. The curmudgeon meanwhile was literally wrestling with his steak. He asked the waiter for a steak knife but they didnt have one. It Looked Very Good, and was a quite large portion with a lovely dark sauce, but sadly it was tough and he found a lot of pieces inedible, even though it was cooked medium as specified. It came with some kind of deeply browned potatoes covered with cheese, and a hearty pile of leathery greens like kale, doused with a savory-sweet sauce. I tasted everything and thought the sides were at least better than the steak.
The bill for the water and food came to about $96. We decided against dessert because we had a large amount of Susina chocolate birthday cake at home to work on that night.
My main criteria for recing a restaurant dish is, would I order it again? In this case I would certainly not order the same dishes, or even order the same way. What I would do here to try and ensure better odds of picking a good dish is to order say three appetizers, or a salad/soup and two appetizers, instead of putting all the odds on one entrée. The other thing is to know what a restaurant can do and what it cant. I dont think this is the place to expect a great steak--thats for a steakhouse. Grace is the place to order interesting-sounding dishes (and cross your fingers you actually get something interesting). However the other question is, would I come back to try something else? I think not for us. Grace never got higher than pleasant on any dish, which is ok in most places, but not when spending $100. So wed have to put Grace in the category of restaurants we would try again, but on someone elses dime if that clarifies things...
The birthday whirlwind restaurant tour wound up with brunch at the Getty...review to come shortly.