Amazing grace

Jim Severson's new restaurant has the Wright stuff

Every waiter in a fine establishment should have this kind of understanding of food preparation. After all, he is the salesman for the menu. The nearly black mushroom nuggets were piled on a plate with lightly dressed baby greens, making a meadowy first course that flirted with substance, but didn't weigh you down. On the other hand, there have been times when the wood-fired sampler plate could easily have been supper for me. Fanned slices of grilled pheasant and smoked venison sausage rayed out from sticky-sauced barbecued shrimp. Smoked shrimp cakes were the only dish that didn't completely satisfy--the texture was a little too soft, and their saute time had not solidified the crust, so you could hardly pick the thing up, and the mouthfuls lacked texture, though they tasted overwhelmingly of smoke.

Severson's notion of cooking is centered in American food. This is not one of those melting-pot places where four different cuisines battle it out on your plate. But there are occasional imaginative cultural accents--crunchy pork dumplings, on the appetizer list, are obviously oriental, the triangle-folded wonton wrappers deep fried and served with a gingery mustard. Inside is no thrifty Eastern cabbage-based, meat-flavored filling, but real little chunks of tender pork lightly nested in shredded cabbage, making each turnover a meaty, high-protein morsel.

At the party, we also tasted the crostini, toasted slices of airy bread spread with Dallas goat cheese and ruby-red chopped tomatoes with basil chiffonade--a formerly seasonal dish that, like strawberry shortcake and oysters, has transcended nature's quadratic rule to become a menu staple year-round. Chop salad, a valiant attempt to deflect some attention from Caesar's greens, is a version of that Midwestern curiosity, where all the ingredients--iceberg lettuce, leaf lettuce, peppers, tomatoes, mushrooms, cucumbers, and perhaps other garden goods unidentifiable in the centimeter-square format are chopped together and dressed--almost marinated--in dressing. (As I recall, an Ohio--of course--aunt used to let hers sit overnight before serving it, but I could be exaggerating.)

The main courses we tried were excellent without exception. A thick filet was, as the menu described, only subtly scented with hickory smoke, a relief when this cut is so often over-marinated and seasoned to compensate for its natural blandness. On the other hand, the full flavor of a dry-aged New York strip was left pristine, to season as you wished with dips from twin ramekins of Sevy's steak sauce (not that different from A1) and "three-onion marmalade," a jammy mixture with all the sweetness and none of the bite of onion.

The girth of a mammoth pork rib chop was increased by the ample stuffing of prosciutto, mozzarella, and sage, the ham infusing the pork with salty savor and the cheese lending some fat to the lean meat. A deep sauce of porcini mushrooms and sweet-tart roasted Roma tomatoes was a perfect complement to a dish that, though the ingredients all had Italian accents, seemed somehow to be purely American. Another visit's entrees had slightly more global touches--the salmon fillet was rubbed with red chili and served with a wonderful stacked tostada of creamy avocado and sweet crab, a garnish that perhaps ought to graduate to the appetizer list. And the roasted duck, served on the bone with plum sauce and moo shi pancakes, was strictly derivative, if delicious.

Desserts, all but one made in-house, featured the same simple approach as the meal--three-citrus pie was a gussied-up version of the old-fashioned key lime recipe, a quivering wedge of condensed milk congealed with orange, lime, and lemon juice. Vanilla-bean cheesecake was creamy and perfectly plain, as cheesecake should be. And the white chocolate caramel sundae was simply a lacework of chewy caramel strands over the white chocolate ice cream.

The restaurant business certainly fits into the shifting modern world model. It's a business that's come to rely more and more on trendy glitz and glamour, where artifice is substituted for art so often that most of us have forgotten there's a difference. In this fickle business, Sevy's Grill is an anomaly, offering service without pretense, style with subtlety, food without flash. So far, dining at Sevy's has been not just delicious, but a solid, reassuring experience.

Sevy's Grill, Preston Rd., (214) 265-7389. Open for lunch Monday-Friday 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m., Saturday 11:30 a.m.-3:00 p.m.; for dinner Monday-Thursday 5 p.m.- 10 p.m., Friday-Saturday 5 p.m.-11 p.m.

Sevy's Grill:
Wood-Fired Sampler $6.95
Crunchy Pork Dumplings $5.95
Grilled Portabello Mushrooms $5.75
Chop Salad $4.95
Smoke House Beef Tenderloin Filet $16.95
Stuffed Pork Rib Chop $14.50
Five-Spice Rotisserie Duck $13.95
Three-Citrus Pie $4.50
Vanilla-Bean Cheesecake $4.95
Mandarin Orange Sorbet $3.50

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