Dining Review | Connecticut
Billy Grant, the chef and co-owner, is the force behind Restaurant Bricco, the West Hartford powerhouse renowned for its deep-dish pastas. Around the corner, meanwhile, Mr. Grant has revised the menu at Grant’s, his flagship restaurant, which he owns with two of his brothers, adding burgers, blue-plate specials and other comfort-food touches to knock down prices and make things more casual.
Grant’s now offers a number of overlapping menus — lunch, brunch, tavern, happy hour and dinner — and with continuous dining from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m., a visitor may spend some time figuring out what can be eaten and when. The same dish may come with a different preparation, depending on which menu is chosen. On the dinner menu, the mac and cheese has Gruyère and bread crumbs, on the lunch menu peas, Gruyère, mushrooms, ham and bread crumbs, and on the brunch menu, sometimes, lobster. “If there’s something you really want,” the obliging hostess told me, “I’m sure he can do it for you.”
Grant’s is nothing if not flexible. You can do the traditional appetizer-entree-dessert. Or treat the restaurant as a burger joint. Or go for Champagne and the raw bar.
Twice we used Grant’s as a tapas emporium, with mostly good results. There were some flops. Dates stuffed with goat cheese were too chewy, wrapped in prosciutto roasted into a blackened armature. But tuna tartare tacos were fabulous — five miniature shells propped on a timbale of diced ahi, flecked with herbs, plus a side of guacamole, twin swoops of chili aioli and ginger soy sauce and microgreens. It’s a great summer dish, colorful, fresh and fun.
Chicken poppers, coated in a sweet-sour fruit glaze and dotted with black sesame seeds, proved justly named, releasing a sharp pop of red-pepper flakes. And all of us raved over the plump, tender Maine mussels, served in a big white bowl that highlighted their vivid yellow, saffron-infused Dijon broth.
Equally attractive were ricotta-stuffed squash blossoms, delicately battered and flash-fried, laid over a yin-yang pattern of tomato and basil sauces (though I couldn’t taste the lump crab meat said to be in the mix). I liked the pink-hued tomato, basil and mozzarella risotto fritters, with Parmesan and a hint of truffle oil. But an appetizer described as a “crispy pork belly,” though prettily decorated with watermelon cubes, scallions and thin-sliced radishes, was far more fatty than crispy.
Gnocchi, though light and fluffy, got lost in a busy orchestration of zucchini, baby tomatoes and — I never thought I would say this — a basil pesto that was simply too potent. The lunch menu version of the mac and cheese, on the other hand, was a majestic rendition of the crowd-pleaser, served in a hot cast-iron tureen, and loaded with peas, ham and Gruyère.
An entree of roasted chicken quarters, covered in a chimichurri-like salsa verde, came nestled in a panzanella salad of arugula, red onions, heirloom tomatoes and oversize corn bread croutons. Chicken Milanaise featured a similar salad arrangement, the chicken breasts pounded flat, breaded and golden-fried, with a creamy Parmesan dressing. I added a side of sweet corn pudding, pepped up with a welcome jolt of chili oil. And the skirt steak offers a master class in how to optimize this relatively tough cut of beef; prepared with a spice rub, then pan-seared, sliced across the grain and laid atop an ambrosial succotash of sweet corn, giant white beans, cubed chorizo and scallions.
On another visit we burgered up, and were rewarded with a rich steakhouse hamburger, enlivened with Maytag blue cheese, a sweet onion jam and a tangy horseradish cream. A lobster burger came paved top and bottom with Havarti cheese crisps, served piping hot and dripping with lemon and butter.
Be prepared to encounter lots of butter at Grant’s; the green lentils with a tasty entree of pistachio-crusted trout were so buttery they seemed about to congeal. Almost as rich were the serviceable but unremarkable desserts, including a peach and blueberry cobbler, and a strawberry whipped cream cake served in a Mason jar.
The décor at Grant’s, like its menu, is eclectic to the point of confusion, juxtaposing Gothic chandeliers with faux-marble columns, framed posters of Greco-Roman statuary and shelves stocked with such random curiosities as painted plaster roosters. I preferred the outdoor dining patio, its tables and rattan bistro chairs offering a prime view of West Hartford’s parade of boulevardiers. Enclosed by box-hedge planters and wrought-iron railings, its big red awning rolled back to reveal twin-headed park lamps and locust tree branches, Grant’s patio is a lovely place to dine away the waning days of summer.
Grant’s Restaurant and Bar
977 Farmington Avenue
THE SPACE An interior of dimly lighted sepia with seating for 130; outside, 32 patio seats offering a pretty facsimile of Parisian plein-air dining. Wheelchair access, including to bathrooms, on main level.
THE CROWD West Hartforders of all types, from hipsters to those with bad hips; servers are efficient and inconspicuous.
THE BAR Seating for 24 on stools, plus 16 at tables and booths. A wide-ranging wine list offers about 100 bottles, from $29 to $360, and 28 wines by the glass, $7 to $17. Happy hour weekdays, 4 to 7 p.m., with $3 beers, $6 wines, and cocktails and bar bites from $3 to $6.
THE BILL Appetizers, $3.95 to $14.95; entrees, $14.95 to $38.95; desserts, $8 to $9. American Express, Visa, MasterCard and Discover are accepted.
WHAT WE LIKED Tuna tartare tacos, sesame chicken poppers, stuffed squash blossoms, mac and cheese, tomato and mozzarella fritters, chicken panzanella salad, chicken Milanaise, skirt steak, trout, lobster burger, steakhouse burger with blue cheese, corn pudding.
IF YOU GO Lunch: daily, 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. (The menu is an abbreviated version of the dinner menu.) Dinner: Sunday through Thursday, 5 to 10 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 5 to 11 p.m. (A tavern menu, available throughout the restaurant, bridges the gap between lunch and dinner, and is available until closing.) Brunch: Sunday, 10:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Reservations accepted for indoor dining only. Metered parking on street and in rear lot.
RATINGS Excellent, Very Good, Good, Fair, Poor.