Not exactly positively

On a recent visit, everything about 4th Street Grille seemed so utterly average that I was inclined to ask myself: What’s the point of dissecting the mediocre?

There was nothing really wrong with the place, mind you. Yes, 4th Street Grille is one of those fairly pricey and attractively designed upper-end dinner houses with a large and central bar. And, yes, the menu offers a nice broad range of choices: pizzas, pastas, grilled meats, seafood, salads, et cetera. And, sure, the wait staff seemed to be relatively competent and friendly. Even the food wasn’t what I’d call “bad.”

So why complain, you may ask? Perhaps I’ve just been to too many places like this—places that seem to have all the right ingredients, but also seem to be working off a standard template rather than making an effort to create something truly memorable. I go out to these places, hoping for that dish that’s going to blow me away, that dish that will haunt me with its excellence. Instead, I often come away bored and underwhelmed.

So, better to describe what we ate and leave it at that. Actually, our server started us off with this really great soft and savory herbed focaccia, which forecasted good things for the rest of the meal. Nevertheless, it was all downhill from there.

The meal proper began with an appetizer of steamed clams ($10.95). Prepared in the standard manner, with garlic, butter, white wine and parsley, the bivalves were fresh and properly cooked. Due to a lack of seasoning, though, the dish was essentially lackluster, and haphazardly chopped bits of parsley and parsley stems suggested a lack of attention to detail.

A Caesar salad with rock shrimp ($8.95) only furthered this apparent lack. I have no complaint about the Caesar itself; however, though the addition of the shrimp raised the salad’s price significantly, there were only about six or seven tiny, overcooked and completely flavorless rock shrimp on top. I can’t imagine the process that would so utterly rob a shrimp of its flavor, but they evidently figured it out at 4th Street Grille.

But we still had hopes for our entrées. As it turned out, they ranged from OK to decent. A mixed grill of quail, beef tenderloin and smoked pork chop ($21.95), for instance, was overwhelmingly passable. If I had to intuit the recipe used for the quail, I’d say it went something like this: “Take a quail, subject it to heat until cooked through, serve.” Being quail, it contained tender and delicately flavored meat, but it was entirely without seasoning and, thus, rather bland. The smoked pork chop had temperature problems, as it was suspiciously only lukewarm at best. And the beef, though ordered medium, was served medium-well to well-done. Accompanying the grilled meats was a wedge of crispy polenta and sautéed baby greens that were actually quite good, but not good enough to counteract the dish’s other deficiencies.

If the mixed grill was passable, the night’s sea bass ($17.95) was, by contrast, admissible. Well, at first it wasn’t. I know sashimi is quite popular. However, the sea bass was advertised as being grilled, which generally means it will be cooked. This dish was only cooked about a millimeter deep, so we had to send it back for more heat. Which got me wondering, since there were now four separate grilled items served, how the grill cook—for the same table—could 1) overcook a steak, 2) fail to thoroughly heat a smoked pork chop, and 3) leave a piece of fish almost completely raw? Maybe they had a TV in the kitchen running the basketball playoffs or something. Once we got the fish back, it was fine. At least it had been seasoned, and a nice bit of basil butter enhanced things somewhat.

And that was it. We weren’t even offered dessert, though we didn’t really want any anyway.

Here’s my final thought on the 4th Street Grille: It’s yet another nice restaurant with potential, mired down in mediocrity because it seems to pay attention to every detail, except the food.

Which is unfortunate, because most people come to eat.