Unassuming Excellence at the City Bar & Grille

Unassuming Excellence at the City Bar & Grille 1

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WORCESTER – It’s difficult to know what to expect from the new City Bar & Grille, on Chandler Street in Worcester. The restaurant’s sign, in big block letters, doesn’t provide many clues for what to find inside. And although the bar you see upon entering is welcoming and well-stocked, the restaurant itself doesn’t say much more about what’s really there.

The good news is, what’s really there is very, very good—indeed, at its best, excellent.

Our group of four had to try at least one starter.  And venturesome quartet as we are, we figured we’d go for one of the more exotic selections, the grilled octopus, with smoked bacon, togarshi (a Japanese table condiment), toasted grains, and sweet miso.  Wonderful! One member of our quartet couldn’t quite get near the lengthy tentacles, so we had her shut her eyes and went on to slice those into more harmless looking chunks, which she was now happy to ingest with abandon.  Tender, slightly chewy, piquant, and just plain tasty, it was a great way to launch the meal.

Other starters range from chicken liver mousse toast (next time!) to bbq chicken flatbread all the way to sweet crab dumplings and spicy tuna tartare.  In short: a nice mix, with some interesting twists.

The drink menu was interesting too—and, in terms of beer selection, surprisingly wide-ranging, with offerings including standard lagers, IPAs, Belgian and German beers, stouts, and porters, even what the menu refers to as “Unique and Different” beers, such as the Barrel House Z Townie Strong Irish Ale or the Single Cut Kim Hibiscus Sour Lager.  All of these along with wines, ciders, and a good array of spirits. My dry Manhattan (Buffalo Trace, lemon twist) did well to get me in the mood.

As for the “City Mains,” it was hard to choose! For our clan, it’s always hard to choose; so, in some ways, nothing new there.  But this time around, it was hard to choose because most of the dishes listed sounded worthy.  

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Bourbon Brined Pork Chop

We settled on the bourbon brined pork chop (with broccoli, baby sweet potatoes, cranberry mustard, and candied pears), the roasted salmon (with haricot vert [green beans], tomatoes, couscous, baby bok choy, in a miso vinaigrette), the New England baked cod (butter cracker crumb topping, spinach, wild rice pilaf, lemon herb butter), and, last but certainly not least (because I had it), the roasted organic chicken (with parsnips, brussel sprouts, spaetzli, with Dijon and rosemary butter).  

A quick word on the organic aspect:  After we finished with the mains, the chef, Al Soto, came out to say hello and find out how things had gone, and in the process mentioned to us, almost in passing, that most of the ingredients he was working with were local, grass-fed, organic, and, generally, a good deal more (how shall I put it) “contemporary” than the menu would suggest.  When we spoke with him about the importance of flagging these good things a bit more visibly, he essentially said, “This is how I’ve always cooked; no more, no less.” Very appealing character: passionate, humble, eager to please, and fiercely dedicated to putting out some serious food.

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Roasted Organic Chicken

But what about those four mains?  Not unlike the person of Al Soto and his co-owner wife, Cynthia, who also visited our table following the meal, along with the friendly woman who served us:  unassuming excellence. Well-designed plates, ample portions, and, most important, for our purposes and yours, some great food, at a reasonable price. The chicken: wicked good.  I’m not a huge chicken eater, mind you.  But this dish reminded me of what chicken can be when it’s handled sensitively and well.  I’d go for a return trip, just for that dish. Though being the sampler I am, I’d likely go for another, see what delights I might find.  

Finally, and in view of the good experience we’d had thus far, we figured we’d toss aside our various low-carb commitments and check out a dessert or two.  I feel some guilt even writing this. But not a whole lot. Why? Because the desserts we had—a chocolate brownie sundae (that had some serious chocolate, arriving slightly crusty on the outside, soft and light on the inside) and some lemon-curd-infused mini-donuts, specially prepared that day (crazy good)—washed that guilt away with nary a trace remaining.  

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Roasted Salmon

I think it’s going to take a while for City Bar & Grille to find its sweet spot in terms of décor and ambience.  But all that is utterly secondary. Plus, I wouldn’t want to see it go too far trying to dress itself up. The bottom line is, it’s got some great food, well-prepared and well-presented, and that, finally, is what’s going to bring us back, soon.

In its own unique, unassuming way, it’s already a serious entry in the ever-growing Worcester food scene, and we’re delighted to welcome it to the neighborhood.

City Bar & Grille is located at 395 Chandler St., Worcester – 508-752-4222 for reservations – Hours: Tuesday-Thurs. 5 PM – 10 PM; Fri-Sat 5 PM – 11 PM; Sun 10 AM – 3 PM (Brunch), 5 PM – 9:30 PM. 

 

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