From the grind to the grill

A few months ago, some friends and I drove to the Coffee Grinder for a down-home, greasy-spoon lunch. But the spoons would be greasy no more: The Coffee Grinder had closed.

Seeing as the Coffee Grinder had been a longtime Reno institution with some of the best chicken-fried steak around, this was a major bummer.

But the space that housed the Coffee Grinder was not vacant for long, and it is now home to the New York Italian Grill. Having no idea what to expect, Kelley Lang and I went there recently to get some lunch.

Folks, the only thing the New York Italian Grill has in common with the old Coffee Grinder is the address. The restaurant looks completely different—it actually looks nice now. There are dining areas on both sides of the restaurant, with a bar-like area in between. The ceiling is painted blue with white clouds. Plastic paneling—which looks like gray rocks with concrete in between—adorns the walls. It looks like what you would expect an Italian restaurant to look like.

The New York Italian Grill has separate lunch and dinner menus. The lunch menu is fairly basic, including the usual pasta dishes, three chicken dishes and three kinds of individual pizzas. All the entrées cost between $5.95 and $7.95, and the meals are served with bread and a choice of minestrone soup or a house salad with creamy Italian dressing. The dinner menu is much larger, with a full selection of pizzas and meals ranging from cappellini pomodoro ($8.95) to filet mignon ($15.95).

Since we were there for lunch, Kelley ordered the baked gnocchi ($5.95) with the salad. I decided on the zitti al forno ($5.95) with the soup. We also decided to try the mozzarella cheese sticks appetizer ($2.50). We quickly received the soup and salad, along with the bread.

Kelley liked the salad. It was pretty typical; the greens looked fresh, and Kelley could taste the herbs in the dressing. As for the minestrone, it was a bit bland. While it tasted fine, it didn’t knock my socks off; it seemed like it was missing something.

However, we both fell in love with the bread. It was warm, soft and delicious. Our waiter said it is baked fresh on-site, and it is some of the best bread I’ve ever tasted in this city.

The cheese sticks, with a marinara dip, took a little longer to make their way to our table. They were tasty, but then again, I’ve never had a bad mozzarella stick in my life.

Just as we were finishing the cheese sticks, the main courses arrived.

Kelley’s gnocchi was, in her words, filling but a bit bland. Kelley is an admitted spice freak, and she wished the sauce would have been zestier. I took a quick taste, and I agreed with her assessment.

I could say the same thing about my zitti. It was drab, too. When a meal is just some pasta and some sauce, the sauce has to carry the meal. This sauce didn’t do that. Its recipe seemed uninspired and plain.

The New York Italian Grill is certainly no Coffee Grinder, and that is both good and bad. It’s good because this part of town could use a nicer, more upscale type of restaurant. With its friendly service, its warm atmosphere and its decent prices, the New York Italian Grill has potential there. However, it’s bad that it’s no Coffee Grinder in the respect that the Grinder’s food was inspired and tasty; that’s not the case here.

If the chefs at the New York Italian Grill can turn it up a notch, this restaurant will have a shot at being a real winner.