When I was growing up, every suburban neighborhood had a small cluster of stores with a grocery, dry cleaner, bakery, maybe a diner. It seems wistfully quaint in this era, when people have to drive through snarls of traffic to shop in “big box” stores or dine out in “concept” restaurants like the one that bills itself a “neighborhood grill and bar,” and is anything but.
The grill is central to the restaurant; the menu has a “Simply Grilled” section offering chicken breast, jumbo shrimp, filet mignon, pork tenderloin, Atlantic salmon, or mixed sea grill ($16 to $24) along with grilled vegetables and mashed sweet potato—the perfect option for the weight conscious diner. The casual diner can choose from a couple of sandwiches (grilled chicken with mushrooms, roasted red pepper, fontina cheese, arugula and basil mayonnaise on grilled pizza bread) or the River City burger (all $10). The meal-sized salads also looked interesting, including coconut-crusted jumbo shrimp atop a salad of watercress, red cabbage, carrots, tomatoes and hearts of palm dressed with orange-chipotle vinaigrette ($16).
From the appetizer menu, we tried the crusted goat cheese salad ($9), with three warm, deliciously breaded rounds of cheese perched atop arugula, slices of Granny Smiths and candied pecans tossed in raspberry vinaigrette. Another excellent choice is the duck spring roll ($8) stuffed with shredded duck seasoned with a subtle, tangy sweet and sour sauce.
The wine list is expensive—Santa Margherita Pinot Grigio and Antinori Chianti Classico both go for $36—so we stuck to the wines by the glass and cocktails. I tried the special that evening, Gallo of Sonoma’s Chardonnay 1998 ($7), a well-made California-style Chardonnay, with lots of oak. My friend went retro and ordered a martini, which came in a classic glass that cast a mysterious Kryptonite green glow from its base. She was quite happy with the drink, but I found it a tad too watery. That night a heady-sounding “sangria” made with red wine, brandy, pomegranate molasses and fresh orange juice was on offer for $5.50, and I’ll try that next time.
The entrÃ©es are simple but satisfying classic combinations of meat, potato and vegetable: pan-roasted fillet of wild striped bass in a toasted sesame-soy beurre blanc, with sticky rice and bok choy ($22); braised lamb shank with natural jus served with haricots verts and mashed root vegetables ($20). There are also a few pasta options that look interesting, like gemelli tossed with basil pesto and served with smoked chicken breast, tasso ham, cherry tomatoes and roasted peppers ($17).
I opted for the eight-ounce filet mignon ($23), cut into a pyramidal shape that made for a dramatic presentation, but was less than precise in cooking—medium rare turned to rare in the very center of the steak. Still, it was fine quality meat made even better by the chive-Gorgonzola butter, which was more subtly flavored than it may sound. Breaded and deep-fried slices of zucchini were whimsically planted in a pile of delicious horseradish mashed potatoes, but I wished they had been the winter vegetables promised on the menu. Two plump crab cakes ($24) could have been more golden, but they were nice and meaty and went well with the jicama slaw on the side. But the star of that plate was the hash made with sweet potatoes, shitake and pancetta—the kind of side dish you wish was the whole meal.
The desserts were a little disappointing: A handsome looking piece of chocolate bundt cake was dry, and a hazelnut tart with caramel sauce was so sweet, it was like a big piece of candy. Maybe the River City Grille is like a lot of local characters: unique and full of personality, if not perfect. Still, when a place this good is right around the corner, it’s a local treasure.
RIVER CITY GRILLE
6 South Broadway, Irvington
Lunch, Mon. to Sat. 11:30 am-3 pm (limited menu until 5 pm)
Dinner, Mon. to Thurs. 5:30-10 pm, Fri. and Sat. 5:30-11 pm, Sun. 5-9 pm
Sandwiches and salads: $10-$16