By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Alice Laussade
By City of Ate
By Scott Reitz
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Alice Laussade
A summer special, gazpacho, was cold, tart, sweet, and utterly refreshing, processed slightly more than traditional gazpacho so the vegetable texture was just nubbly instead of chunky, just thick enough to support the weight of some big irregular croutons and flakes of white crabmeat. The only dish that disappointed was the appetizer of shrimp and scallops, and it really suffered only by comparison: The scallops were very slightly overcooked, not to rubber but to greater fibrousness than I like, and for some reason the flavor of the shellfish didn't shine. The lobster cake, on the other hand, a special appetizer, was a marvel. Crisp-crusted, the tender patty broke open at the touch of a fork and the texture was wonderfully light and creamy, with big chunks of celery to complement the meatiness of the shellfish, the whole idea of crab cake not changed but just adapted to suit the flavor and texture differences between the two shellfish.
There's a bar off the main dining room, and we were delighted to hear Arthur Riddles and his boys slide into some smooth jazz as we were ending our meal. A conversation with Guercio brought forth words I never thought I'd hear said by an operator about a restaurant: "We tried a blues band a few nights," he told us, "but they were too loud [italics mine] for people to talk." We took the dregs of our wine and our labor-intensive but lousy cappuccino (our waitress wasn't used to the machine and she apologized--we weren't charged for it) into the bar after our meal to hear a few numbers.
For lunch, the menu repeats itself frequently, but in a lower price bracket. And we tried one dish that had caught our eye at dinner: stuffed shrimp. This is one of those recipes like deviled crab that is so retro it should be cool again, like chunky heels, white nail polish, and polyester. Foods are just like anything else: They're introduced, they become fashionable, then they're overworked and get tired, and finally they disappear completely for awhile, to be revived again by some nostalgic or desperate thrill-seeking cook. But you can't hold onto your Newburg like you can your platform shoes, waiting for what went around to come around. In his new cookbook, An American Place, Larry Forgione gives it a shot, reviving a number of old-fashioned, now unfashionable, dishes: chicken a la king, for one, Waldorf salad for another, cod cakes, and even pigs in a blanket. Stuffed shrimp is one of these dishes. Evidently, as far as the Wood Grill's chefs are concerned, if it tastes good, it never goes out of style. But then, the Wood Grill prepares food with integrity. The shrimp curled tightly and mounded with a sweet-salty mixture of Ritz crackers and herbs is drizzled with butter, then baked in a quarter-inch of melted butter. They came to the table as hot as boiling oil and were so rich they gave you a headache, and yet you couldn't stop eating them, one decadent nibble at a time.
On the nouvelle side, a slab of tuna nestled in a soft bed of refried black beans, topped with pico de gallo made with diced watermelon. The pink-and-black presentation was as striking as the flavors, which improbably worked.
Another diner friend indulged in a personal lobster festival--a cup of the bisque, persimmon-colored, caramel-sweet, with the deep flavor of dark-roasted lobster in a soup as smooth as ice cream. She followed this with a whole lobster, cooked by a man who knows how. It didn't gush water when you cracked into it (it had been drained adequately, as they often aren't); the tail had been snipped down the middle; and with some dexterity with the cracker and persistence with the little fork, one was able to extract the very last bit of meat out of the one-pounder. The flavor of the flesh provided all the motivation for a job well done.
Pecan-breaded rainbow trout is another fish dish that makes an appearance twice a day at the Wood Grill, the delicately moist white meat thickly and thoroughly coated with ground nuts and whose oiliness was offset by a whiff of dried tarragon. A dollop of homemade tartar sauce was the unpretentious finish.
Most of the entrees came with an ear of corn and a nice small baked potato, rubbed with salt so it barely needed butter, much less the sour cream and chives served with it.
Desserts, except for the wild berry torte that is flown in from Italy, are made by the kitchen: We liked the key lime pie, solidly congealed, with the yellow bitterness of the true fruit, and the sour rhubarb strawberry pie, a Yankee classic too seldom seen down here.
So far, the Wood Grill is pulling them in for lunch and dinner, and my guess is it will become a neighborhood anchor. Guercio says a chef friend asked him, after the Wood Grill had been open for a couple of weeks, "Are you proud of the food yet?" The answer was "yes."
Daddy Jack's Wood Grill, 2723 Elm St., 653-3949. Open for lunch Monday-Friday, 11 a.m.- 2 p.m.; for dinner Tuesday-Thursday, 6 p.m.-10 p.m.; Friday-Saturday, 6 p.m.-11 p.m.
Daddy Jack's Wood Grill:
Grilled Portobello and Asparagus $6
New England Crab Cake $5
Lobster Bisque (cup) $4.50
Pecan-Breaded Rainbow Trout with Tartar Sauce $13
Grilled Red Snapper topped with Gulf Shrimp and Lobster Brandy $18
Lobster Bisque (bowl) $4
Pecan-Breaded Rainbow Trout $7
Baked Stuffed Shrimp $8
Lobster Insanity!!! (One pound Maine lobster, boiled) $8.95