Alley Fat

Who's afraid of the big, bad cholesterol? At Grill on the Alley, no one is.
Tom Jenkins

Grill on the Alley is a New American sucker punch; a dining blitzkrieg, albeit one leavened with polished elegance if you don't count the cheeseburger. And even that is shaped from certified Angus beef and has earned a "classic" designation. The Grill is a New American temple outfitted in an archetypal deforestation's worth of dark wood paneling and hardwood flooring that always seems to sweat Sinatra—or Harry Connick Jr., if the perspiration is of a more contemporary strain. Prices are fisticuff bold too. So is the rhetoric.

"Shrimp cocktail is tiger prawns," says the waiter. "Twelve to a pound. Those are great to share." Sunday dinner special is "traditional" prime rib, 28 ounces of the stuff including the bone. Available only on Sunday.

On Sundays the realization hits you that 28 ounces of prime rib is a lot of meat, even if you don't eat the bone. It's better split, medium rare. "Creamed spinach and Yorkshire pudding, plenty of everything for both of y'all. I promise you," says our waiter. If it isn't, well, he assures us we could order more great American grill food such as maybe steak tartare or a wedge of Big Carrot Cake.


Grill on the Alley

Endive salad $7.50

Chilled gazpacho $5.50

Crab cake $13.50

Lobster martini $18.75

Prime rib $37.75

Rack of Lamb $29.75

Baked halibut $29.75

Rib eye $33.75

Grilled Shrimp pomodoro $23.75

Carrot cake $7.50

The prime rib is well-seasoned, with a broad flavor profile that sloughs off a little sweetness. The slab arrives with a massive cleaved baked potato, with all of the fixings—cheese, scallions, real bacon bits—tucked in little plastic ramekins. Yorkshire pudding is moist and fresh.

So is the Big Carrot Cake: six layers of coarse cake matter ribboned with cream cheese frosting. The plate is rusted with cinnamon dust. Nuzzled up to the wedge's leading edge is a whipped cream drift, with whole pecans crudely pressed into the swell.

Grill on the Alley was hammered into place in 1984 Beverly Hills as "a bastion of straightforward, classic American cuisine" modeled after the great, dark hyper-yang grill halls of New York and San Francisco. And straightforward it is. The only thing missing is a menu disclaimer warning that a stroll down this alley will effectively reroute any and all gastric bypass operations. The alley spread to Hollywood and the Fairmont Hotel in San Jose, California, before it landed in Chicago, at The Westin Hotel Michigan Avenue. It crept into Dallas this past July. (The restaurant's parent, publicly traded Grill Concepts Inc., also operates 20 downscaled Daily Grills in California, Oregon, Illinois, Houston and Washington, D.C.)

The Grill has a sleek bar and a richly appointed, musty-money dining room with white tablecloths and napkins, a semi-open kitchen, beveled glass partitions around banquettes and framed black-and-white photos on the walls where large windows peering out onto Galleria channels and valet cul-de-sacs haven't intruded.

The menu is crammed with steaks, chops, martinis, liquors and...the Daily Bull, a liquid goring of Red Bull and Ketel One Citroen. Not surprisingly, the wine list is almost exclusively from California with just a smattering of French Champagnes and relative outliers such as a Washington Firestone Johannesburg Riesling, a Santa Margherita Pinot Grigio and an Inniskillin Ice Wine from Canada. (We whittled out a San Felice Chianti.) The cheapest bottle rings in at $39, which isn't really so out of whack with menu pricing that hovers in the low-to-mid 30s with the stratosphere breached with the $67.75 charbroiled cold-water lobster tails with shoestring potatoes—shoestrings spun from hedge fund returns, no doubt.

The waiter riffles through the menu, the sheer weight of which rivals the prime rib slab. Lobster bisque (made with lobster essence). Calamari (lightly floured). Chicken pot pie ("We only use dark meat in that. We feel it tends to maintain the flavor and make it a little more juicy."). Steak and chop section ("You can't go wrong with anything with a bone in it this evening."). Jumbo lump crab cakes ("Our lump crab cake, there's no fillers in that. It's Maryland blue lump crab with a little Old Bay seasoning.").

They're delicious. Pan-seared and loose with rich flakes of silvery-cream meat, the crab cakes are dribbled with a lemony beurre blanc, the kind that would get sopped up and sacked away in fuzzy filler. The Grill also hawks a lobster martini tightly packed into a martini glass. The meat is plucked from the claw and knuckle, our waiter says, and is dressed in a sauce rendered from sour cream, mayonnaise and brandy. It's heaped on a bed of celery rémoulade punched down into the base of the glass. A tiny cluster of orange lumpfish caviar crowns the display. "The lobster martini is hit and miss," our waiter says. "Some people love it, some people don't." Yeah, well, it's pretty much of a dead-center smack, though I wonder what it would be like if the cream-based sauce was shucked for a warm lemon butter lather. The lobster flesh is sweet and supple, without the stringiness that often crops up when lobster has been frozen or overcooked or both. Digging deep into the crisp celery threads provides an alluring foil to the creamy crown.

Those big fat shrimp are good too. Five of them appear in the grilled shrimp pasta pomodoro, bowing into a heap of angel hair pasta, their tails resting on the bowl rim. The pasta is topped with greens, and tomatoes lurk within the sauce. Their firm, marine-sweet flavors never lose their grip and slip into soapiness. Even more remarkable is the tangle of pasta. It's perfectly cooked. There is not a sticky knot or bonded strand pair in the snarl.

Fish is only slightly less riveting. A coarse crescent of baked halibut is posted on a plate near a ribbon of vegetables: zucchini, onion, bell pepper, mushrooms, that sort of thing. The fish is Parmesan-crusted and seasoned with paprika, scallions and citrus lime juice. This injects a forward bite into what is otherwise a mild fish.

But the Grill hooks its rep on meat, on chops such as the treacherously priced beef rib chop ($39.75). Australian lamb chops don't go that high. Five or so chops are propped vertically on the plate in a puddle of brackish mint sauce near a dab of spinach mashed potatoes. Rather than tight and silky with tightly focused meat flavors, the chops are loose and fatty with just a little bit of raciness to break through the lackluster texture of the meat.

Charbroiled rib eye was even more disappointing, especially given that the beef is 28-day-aged prime from Midwestern corn-fed cattle. A pool of red juices collects in a divot on the rib eye's surface, which is broiler-scorched into a craggy black crust. The large steak is rich but loose, sinewy and very fatty — not marble fatty, but fatty with pronounced pockets of milky-yellow globules.

Salads are astounding, though. Endive salad—with racy red radicchio, romaine, gorgonzola and spicy pecans splashed in an invigorating vinaigrette—is essentially a leafy aperitif. Rich, thick slices of tomato tango with Bermuda onion hoops and Maytag blue cheese in the tomato onion salad.

Sure, this is little more than a burly American grill with furred-chest brutishness tamed by cummerbund manners. The only requirement for its enjoyment is a high-cholesterol billfold.

Yet sometimes it stumbles. Instead of a silken puree, the Grill's chilled gazpacho is just a bowl of thin tomato bleed with bits of avocado, cucumber and tomato—essentially a wet salad. Then again, what self-respecting chop and prime rib shop dabbles in gazpacho?

13270 Dallas Parkway, Suite 155, 214-459-1601. Open 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 10 a.m.-10 p.m. Sunday. $$$-$$$$

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