In Canton, a little place that could go over big

Restaurant: The neighborly Elliott St. Bar & Grille tries hard, but the menu is too ambitious.

Sunday Gourmet

March 10, 2002|By Elizabeth Large | Elizabeth Large,Sun Restaurant Critic

The Elliott St. Bar & Grille is a nice little neighborhood restaurant. Too bad it wants to be more.

This is the place in Canton that used to be Dooby's, which was sold and for a few weeks last spring became a Cuban eatery called La Vida Loca. It changed hands again, and in December, after some renovation, reopened as the Elliott St. Bar & Grille.

As neighborhood restaurants go, it has promise; but a few more physical improvements wouldn't hurt. If you want atmosphere, sit at a booth in the bar up front. If you decide to eat in the dining room, you'll enter from a side door that faces the bathrooms, which isn't the best introduction to a restaurant.

The dining room itself looks like a pizzeria, although it does have blond wood, white tablecloths and plants. It's the kitchen in back that's the problem. It doesn't look like an exhibition kitchen so much as the counter of a carryout. (I should add that our waitress told us the owner is planning further renovations, which at the very least will take care of the bathroom doors problem.)

Anyway, the dining room is clean and comfortable, the kind of place where you might enjoy a cheeseburger and a beer. But open the menu and you'll find several pages listing everything from mozzarella caprese to Oriental tuna and pistachio lamb. You can get a cheeseburger; but cioppino, mesquite shrimp and steak au poivre are clearly the kinds of dishes that chef David Gutman prefers to produce.

That's all well and good, but at least the night we were there he had no help in the kitchen. Given that, I was impressed that he got the food out at all. If I were in charge, I'd revamp the menu, pare it down and spend a little more time on quality control.

For instance, one of the signature dishes is pistachio lamb. The serving was generous, but it had an unpleasantly strong smell of lamb, and was fatty and raw under its pistachio crust. Good garlic mashed potatoes and a dark wine sauce didn't make up for the meat.

Too often what we got didn't bear enough resemblance to the menu description. A first course of smoky mesquite-grilled shrimp came on a plate of black beans, not the promised corn, tomato and asparagus salad. Cream of tomato soup tasted like a chunky tomato pasta sauce. Chicken fritters, which I assumed would involve chopped meat, were simply pieces of fried, boneless chicken breast. A "Land and Sea" special was a scoop of crab imperial on a boneless chicken breast rather than a crab cake and chicken as promised. Tuna, which was supposed to come with an Oriental vinaigrette, had instead a dark, thick and dominating sauce.

Regulars, however, know to order dishes like the chicken pesto, which our waitress told us is one of the restaurant's most popular offerings. The handsome bowl comes filled with penne tossed with strips of chicken, mushrooms and fresh basil in a light cream sauce just scented with garlic. We also saw a lot of good-looking beef go by, accompanied by hand-cut french fries. Gourmet pizzas are another possibility.

You have to give the Elliott St. Bar & Grille credit for generous portions (the creamy crab dip with sliced baguette would feed a table of four easily) and good fresh vegetables: chopped tomatoes and just-tender asparagus. Nothing seems out of a box or can.

It also has excellent desserts. Who would expect to find an almond tuile filled with chocolate mousse and chocolate truffles on the menu of a bar and grill? Even better was a tangy cheesecake, obviously freshly baked.

As uneven as the food was, we had a good time at the Elliott St. Bar & Grille. It offers something intangible, a cozy friendliness that every neighborhood restaurant should have -- but doesn't always.

The service wasn't always as smooth as it might have been because our high-energy waitress was having to function as bartender and sous chef part of the time, but she managed to pull it off. Still, this could be twice the restaurant with half the menu.


Food: **

Service: ***

Atmosphere: **

Where: 3123 Elliott St.

Hours: Monday through Saturday for lunch, daily for dinner

Prices: Appetizers, $5.50-$15.95; main courses, $10.95-$22.95

Call: 410-732-2310

Rating system: Outstanding: ****; Good: ***; Fair or uneven: **; Poor: *

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