Wait was long, but dishes mostly pleased at Coho Grill

December 11, 1997|By Kathryn Higham | Kathryn Higham,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Like everything else in Columbia, the Coho Grill is hidden from view, tucked away inside the Hobbits Glen Golf Course. We missed our turn as we drove through the residential neighborhood where the golf course is located.

No one else seemed to have trouble finding the restaurant, though. On a Saturday night, we waited 40 minutes before getting a table, and the crowd had hardly dwindled by the time we left. Since reservations are not accepted, it's hard to avoid a wait on a busy night.

Good food and a warm, comfortable atmosphere are what draw people to the Coho Grill. Done in warm peach tones to contrast with a pitched ceiling of exposed dark wood, the restaurant features tables and booths on two levels. Strategically placed plants provide privacy, and curiosities like microscopes and globes on a high bookshelf add visual interest.

We had a long time to soak in the atmosphere, waiting for our appetizers. Once they arrived, though, we were happy: skewers of moist chicken with a light and spicy peanut sauce; a cup of mushroom soup, with finely minced mushrooms in a delicate cream base; and silky crab dip with the surprise of artichoke hearts. We spread the creamy dip on slices of warm French bread.

A woodland salad was an appealing combination of tastes and textures, with baby greens, walnuts and slivers of marinated portobello mushrooms, served with an herb vinaigrette.

We also liked crisp-edged Angus beef in an onion-wine sauce, and the Southwest cassoulet. This rich mix of white beans, grilled chicken, sausage and potatoes had a note of mellow sweetness, an interesting American take on a French classic.

There were a few minor problems. A fillet of salmon was cooked to perfection, but the distinctive flavor of the fish was mismatched with tropical mango salsa. While the pasta was slightly overcooked in the shrimp and basil fettuccine, the shrimp were done just right -- plump and succulent. What's the point of making this dish with dried basil, though?

Moist chocolate bread pudding and cakelike tiramisu with intensely flavored chocolate sauce were good choices for dessert. We weren't as thrilled with the sweet potato cheesecake. It didn't taste like either cheesecake or sweet potato pie, but more like a bland combination of both.

After our meal at Coho Grill, we learned that the owners were planning some changes to the menu. Chris Beyer, who opened the restaurant with partner Chuck Sachs in 1990, said the changes, which should be in place by now, won't be too radical. Popular dishes like the cassoulet will remain. Others will switch on a weekly basis.

We hope the service staff will get a retooling as well. We sat in our booth for almost a half-hour before anyone came over to us. When we tried to enlist the aid of a server passing by, she told us curtly, "I'm not your waitress." Granted, the restaurant was very busy, but a few extra people busing tables, taking drink orders or simply offering apologies would have gone a long way.

Coho Grill

11130 Willow Bottom Drive, Columbia

410-740-2096

Hours: Open daily for lunch, Tuesday through Sunday for dinner

Credit cards: All major cards

Prices: Appetizers, $2.75-$8; entrees, $5.50-$16.50

Pub Date: 12/11/97

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