From opening day, Grill Art was a pretty place, with the good looks of a contemporary gallery. The dining room is narrow and sleek but given warmth by a spot-on lighting scheme and alternating brick and cool-cucumber-painted side walls. It looks even better than I remembered, mellower maybe.
The regular menu lists the restaurant's everyday sandwiches, quesadillas, salads and three-cheese pizzas. Most of it is what you'd expect to find at a good museum or wine-market restaurant - a spinach pear salad with gorgonzola, an avocado BLT, and a rare tuna sandwich with mango salsa and sliced avocado. Among some standard cheese and meat offerings, one of the pizzas here caught our eye. The fruit and nut pie layers thinly sliced almonds, grilled pears and gorgonzola on a pesto-brushed crust. This was a treat, and the dense, savory crust was especially enjoyable.
Grill Art has a separate dinner menu of appetizers and entrees, about eight each. It's nice to see appetizers that are scaled down, little things to wake up your palate without filling you up. The kitchen does a good job with them - fresh asparagus wrapped with gorgonzola in baked puff pastry is an elegant take on the pig in a blanket. Eggplant "caviar" is a tasty paste of eggplant, garlic, shallots and capers, served on toast rounds and with marinated red pepper strips and a block of creamy feta cheese. Shrimp Thai is a winning presentation of perfectly cooked shrimp in a surprisingly spicy tomato sauce, a tingly mix of brown-sugar sweetness and red-pepper heat, tricked out with fresh basil leaves.
Something else nice: Three out of the eight entrees listed were vegetarian - a tortellini toss ($12.95), an eggplant napoleon and wild-mushroom ravioli. The ravioli is available with either a sun-dried tomato cream sauce or the house's fresh tomato sauce, which we tried and liked. The pasta was firm, the mushroom filling robust.
The two fully plated entrees we tried - a fresh grilled salmon and a special, cornbread-stuffed chicken - were not entirely successful but still good. Colorful grilled vegetables elevate the presentations here, but too much plain white basmati rice brings them back down.
Diners can get hot, ice and even frozen coffee drinks from Grill Art Cafe's coffee bar, which looks like a sweet place to visit anytime. Desserts are homemade and modest, such as fresh mixed berries in a custard cream, which was simple and good. This could be an inspirational comeback story if Grill Art Cafe keeps chugging uphill. I think it can.
On the menu•Asparagus wrapped with gorgonzola in baked puff pastry ($4.95)
•Eggplant "caviar" ($3.95)
•Spinach pear salad with gorgonzola ($7.95)
•Fresh grilled salmon ($15.95)
•Cornbread-stuffed chicken ($10.95)
•Fresh mixed berries in a custard cream ($4.95)