Grants Restaurant and Bar
860-236-1930 and http://www.billygrant.com
Grants has long been a star of the impressive West Hartford Center food scene. When my group of Ladies Who Lunch heard they'd renovated the place and updated the menu, seven of us met there to check it out.
The vibe: Changes have been made — clusters of small tables near the entrance, room for larger gatherings in the back – but Grants has kept its atmosphere of relaxed elegance with a Mediterranean accent. Not casual, exactly, but comfortable in honeyed colors with bright red leather accents to spark things up. Our table's alcove was decorated with wood-and-chicken-wire panels over honey-colored walls, producing a pleasant beehive effect. This place knows how to make its clientele feel special without being stuffy about it.
The food: In a word: terrific. The lunch menu, which changes, offers appetizers, a raw bar, salads big and small, a half-dozen or so entrees, burgers and sandwiches, side dishes and daily specials.
Here's what we ate: lots of soft rolls, tops gleaming with garlic butter and crisp little garlic bits. Clam chowder, creamy and full of clams, and topped with toasted corn bread croutons.
A luscious warm duck and spinach salad, with about a whole duck's worth of rich confit, plus dried cherries, candied pecans and a hot bacon vinaigrette. Chicken Toscano salad with balsamic dressing over chicken, fresh mozzarella, tomatoes, roasted peppers, olives and croutons made from polenta.
Trout with frisee greens and fingerling potatoes, made even more interesting by green lentils. A done-exactly-as-ordered "All-American" cheeseburger with Grants' betcha-can't-eat-just-one French fries, dusted with rosemary-flavored sea salt.
An entrée of sweet, plump, grit-free wild Maine mussels with those addictive fries and grilled, crusty garlic bread for soaking up the star of this dish, a saffron broth sparked with garlic and fennel. The appetizer version has a saffron and Dijon mustard broth.
Here's a sampling of what we might have eaten: Such appetizers as spiced butternut squash soup, Buffalo shrimp, cornmeal fried oysters, yellowfin tuna tartare, slow-roasted red beets and a cured meats-and-cheeses board. A grilled skirt steak salad, an apple, greens, goat cheese, dates and candied walnut salad with beet viniagrette or a mustard-glazed salmon Nicoise salad. Entrees of cavatelli Bolognese with ricotta, mac and cheese with gruyere, ham, peas, mushrooms and herbed bread crumbs or organic Scottish salmon with black beans, avocado and truffle jus. A pastrami Reuben or a lobster burger with green chili aoli, Havarti cheese and arugula. Even the side of Brussel sprouts is unusual: served charred with candied hazelnuts and a raisin vinaigrette. This is beautifully plated food that delivers flavor and sophisticated combinations.
The bill: Lunch prices at Grants are, as expected, gentler than at dinner, and given the high quality of the food and service, they are a real bargain. Appetizers are $5.95 to 12.95, salads are $7.95 to $15.95, entrees are $11.95 to $18.95, burgers and sandwiches are $11.95 to $16.95, sides are $4.95 to $5.95 and daily specials are $10 to $12. Happy Hour bar bites and drinks are deeply discounted.
The particulars: Grants is open Monday through Thursday from 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m.; Friday and Saturday from 11:30 a.m. to 11 p.m. and Sunday from 11:30 a.m. to 9 p.m., with brunch served from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Happy Hour is Monday thru Friday from 4 to 7 p.m. in the bar and 4 to 6 p.m. on the patio, weather permitting.
The verdict: An old favorite, now with a fresh look, that still serves some of the best food around.