Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Front 'n' Center

Williamsburg has New Town, and now it has the Center Street Grill. A name like that evokes a friendly, casual spot, enjoyed by locals and out-of-towners alike.

Fresh raw bar? Got it. Fusion food that's still familiar and appealing? Got that, too. Throw in a side of good service, and I'm wishing that Center Street was just a bit closer to home — although the food is average.

Like much of the surrounding construction, there are plenty of windows that lend an open, airy feel. Yellow walls, wooden accents and sensibly spaced tables add to the overall aesthetic.

The menu is pub-lite: standards carefully and freshly prepared, often with a slight twist. Orange-basil butter shrimp are grilled and served with goat cheese foccacia and micro greens, while the filet mignon is slathered with black truffle-fois gras butter. Worry not, picky eaters: there are chicken tenders too, albeit hand cut, breaded in panko and served with a garlic herb aioli.

The waitress greeted my husband and me with a small, complimentary nibble: fresh, mild salsa cradled in crispy wonton skins. These vanished by the time she returned with a bottle of Sonoma-Cutrer Chardonnay ($40), a quintessential California chard that is not-too creamy and fairly well-balanced.

Dave's interest was instantly piqued by the Philly Roll ($7.25). Really, mine was too: golden egg rolls stuffed with thin shavings of rib-eye, meltingly soft onions and gooey American cheese. If I had a tacky cheeseboard of desire, these would be the crispy, meaty pinnacle. Excellent on their own, they were even better dunked into the accompanying white cheese-scallion sauce.

A girl needs her greens, so I had the house salad with sesame dressing ($4). It was the usual line up of fresh field greens, cucumber, red onion and (blessedly) nonrefrigerated cherry tomatoes. The sesame dressing, served on the side in a small pitcher, had an intense roasted flavor tinged with a smoothing bit of sweetness.

Dave's rotisserie chicken ($13.50) was a bit of a mixed-up plate. The half chicken, seasoned with Italian herbs, had great flavor, but was disconcertingly dry. The nutty wild rice suffered a similar fate, while the squishy broccoli simply produced an “ick.”

We both had the opposite reaction to my dish of shrimp and grits ($18). The over-cooked shrimp were forgettable and quickly pushed to the side, but the grits! Indeed, this is what every batch of hulled corn hopes to be made into someday.

Cheese and applewood bacon blended into one of the creamiest, most satisfying bowls I've ever had the pleasure to taste: garlicky, smooth and utterly filling. Dave, an equal opportunity hater of grits and polenta alike, not only finished my bowl, but ordered a side order to take home!

We lingered lazily over coffee ($2) and dessert ($7). The coffee tasted stale and burnt, but the crème brulee had that lovingly burned crisp crust. We tapped in and sampled the custard, a creamy rich mixture of white chocolate and Kahlua.

In a word? Satisfactory, as Nero Wolfe would say.

Center Street Grill
5101 Center Street, New Town, Williamsburg
Phone: 220-4600; Fax: 220-8566
Web site:
Specialties: continental, seafood raw bar
Price range: appetizers, $7-$10; salads, $4-$9.50; sandwiches, $8.50-$10; entrees, $13.50-$26
Hours: 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Monday-Thursday; 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Friday-Saturday; 10 a.m.- 10 p.m. Sunday; bar open later every night
Alcohol: beer, wine, full bar
Smoking: cigarette smoking permitted in the lounge or on the patio
Vegetarian: yes
Wheelchair accessible: yes
Payment: cash, all credit cards except Discover
Noise level: conversational
Atmosphere: upscale casual
Additional Information: daily specials, wine diners, private rooms available, seating for large parties, outdoor patio
Star rating: food 3 1/2, atmosphere 3 1/2, service 3 1/2
(out of five stars)


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