The East End Grille, a new restaurant in Somerville’s Winter Hill, faces a multitude of challenges. The first is a massive street construction project along Broadway designed to widen the sidewalks and create outdoor dining spaces.
The goal may be to approximate Paris — or at least Davis Square — but the current snarl of equipment, orange cones, and confusing signs about parking restrictions can be intimidating to outsiders, i.e., people from Arlington.
This is where the restaurant, which occupies the space of a former bar, passes the first hurdle with flying colors. Behind it is a 40-space parking lot, enough space to make local drivers weep with joy. The meters on this part of Broadway are active until 8 p.m. and enforcement is, shall we say, efficient. So parking is no small advantage.
The restaurant was opened June 1 by four owners: Michael, Oana, and Steven Bandar and Michael Cotter; Patrick O’Grady serves as chef. They clearly have ambitions: There’s a large dining area and a bar area separated by a half wall; a small private dining space, and at least six HD televisions displayed across the well-appointed bar. Eat, drink, watch the game — the message is clear.
Otherwise, the posters, pictures, and other decorations seem a bit random, as if gleaned from other restaurants and assembled here, without any overarching theme.
The open kitchen, which the owners call a “scratch kitchen,” is intended to emphasize fresh ingredients. Plans call for featuring the Massachusetts equivalent of a happy hour with half-price appetizers Monday to Friday from 4 to 6 p.m.
Both ambition and ambiguity marks the menu, which has already undergone changes in the two months the restaurant has been open. The prices say Davis Square and the presentation says Boston, but the food itself has a way to go.
Let’s take one example: the pan-seared cod sandwich ($11). The first bite was lovely, teeth sinking into well-done fish on a bulkie roll. The next bite, and the salt starts to become a bit insistent, and with the third bite, the salt is fighting the fish for attention. Salt the potato frites (side is $5) if you must, but let the fish speak for itself.
On another day we sampled the grilled vegetable wrap, which featured crunchy vegetables, well served by the chive mayo, a well-done option for non-meat eaters.
There’s a nice selection of starters: mussels ($12), calamari ($10), pan-seared ahi tuna ($12), and East End wings, with ranch aïoli ($10.) We sampled the chilled Caesar gazpacho, with garlic croutons and bacon chips ($4 cup, $6 bowl), which was a refreshing twist on the tomato-based gazpacho, with its creamy greens. But those bacon chips? They add an unusual flavor, but the Grille seems overly fixated on bacon.
There is also a selection of grilled flat bread ranging from the basic — tomatoes, basil, and mozzarella ($11) — to “meat” with chorizo, prosciutto, sausage, and of course, bacon, ($12).
Of the main dishes, the pan-seared salmon ($19) with baby bok choy and Portuguese rice was filling; the rice not adding anything in particular. Much better was the Statler chicken ($18) with parmesan chive risotto, baby carrots, and tarragon jus. The baby carrots were generous, but the risotto, more like toddler size, lacked zest, even while the chicken was expertly prepared.
Grilled steak tips ($17) came with a block of caramelized onion potato gratin. The sauce on the tips was tasty, the meat a trifle stringy. We would have preferred a smaller block of gratin (a little goes a long way) and another tip or two. Other options include hanger steak ($21), pan-seared shrimp, ($17) and potato gnocchi ($15).
The dessert menu was, again, striving to impress, with a gluten-free chocolate cake ($6) served in over-the-top presentation, with glistening drips of raspberry coulis, a swoosh of sweet crumbs, and a dab of malted ice cream.
It was rich and tasty, but the gluten-free aspect seemed a bit gimmicky. You can also get the white chocolate crème brulee, warm rhubarb compote, and an ice cream plate. All desserts are $6.
Even with its missteps, the East End Grille adds a more upscale option to this section of Somerville.
With time, it may find the right balance between posh and practical. We can enjoy the parking while we’re waiting for the wider sidewalks to be finished.