Third Time Not a Charm – Napa Valley Grille

napa valley grille
110 glendon ave.
westwood, ca 90024
310.824.3322
www.napavalleygrille.com

dinner at napa valley grille which i was hoping would be absolutely perfect for a birthday, turned out to be *eh*. my family certainly had a spectacular time together, as we always do, but the food was a bit disappointing, and the service was extraordinarily slow. on a sunday night, the restaurant was less than half full, and still i often felt like i was waiting – for water, for wine, to place our order, for the dessert menu, for the check. waiting…waiting…waiting.

I knew it would be tough to find a place to make a reservation for us: somewhere nearby, nice enough to dress up for mom, but large and “cool” enough to accommodate 8 very lovingly loud, laugh-at-everything, service-demanding, get-up-and-posing, flash-bulb popping family members, without being a chinese restaurant or the cheesecake factory. the menu had to be varied enough to satisfy some specific tastes: a diabetic, a hard-core carnivore, a dieter, a wine connoisseur, and of course, mom. napa valley grille, a large restaurant located in westwood, with a typical wine-country inspired menu, met these requirements.

The requirement for good food, which goes without saying, was not met. the first time i ate at napa valley grille, i had a great meal. this was very shortly after the restaurant had first opened its doors, so i was impressed. i even remember the seared scallop appetizer i had, and that was years ago. the second time, it was for brunch a little more than a year ago, and again, it was good food. i recall reading somewhere that the chef has changed, and perhaps that explains what happened this third time.

My salad was supposed to be a caesar. i shouldn’t have refused the fresh pepper for some taste, because the plate of chopped romaine in front of me didn’t have any dressing on it! 2 scrawny shavings of parmesan (i can’t say “parmigianno” because i’m not confident of what it really was) and not more than 4 tiny, greasy, chewy pieces of yesterday’s bread as croutons. at the other end of the table, a beet salad with burrata cheese must have tasted better, since it was actually finished. there was also bean and vegetable soup and merguez sausage and asiago pizzette as starters.

As is our custom, we all ordered different things for our entrees so that everyone could taste a little of everything. we must have been the only group in the restaurant using our bread plates as miniature mobile buffet sampling plates. the grilled salmon, crispy stuffed chicken, and angus filet were, as they always are, just salmon, chicken, and steak. seafood cioppino had, promise, but the broth was luke-warm and so bland, it could have been simple tomato soup. sauteed snapper was decent, but the accompanying bechamel-baked cauliflower was embarassingly bitter and charred. the only two dishes that got sincere nods were the port-braised short ribs and the john dory, which were only truly redeemed by their accompaniments, a mascarpone whipped polenta under the short ribs, and the sweet yellow pepper sauce on the fish.

For me, dessert can always be the savior. appetizers could have been boring, salads bland, even the entrees could have been overcooked, but if the last thing i eat is a sensational dessert, then all that is forgotten (well, at least for a few days). but the two desserts we ordered were no better, if not slightly worse, than our meal. crust is usually what makes a tart or pie, but the mangos were first too hard and the entire filling was too dry in mango blueberry tart to even notice the crust. the key lime sorbet was deliciously tart, but as merely an accessory to the tart, it was too small of a scoop to enjoy. caramel pear bread pudding should be so soft and gooey that it has to be served in a ramekin, but this was served “up” as a tower on the plate. it’s no surprise that it was dry as toast. for what it’s worth, the coffee was good.

Maybe i’m stubborn or just naive, because i really want to love napa valley grille. i’d like to think we just went on an off night for them, and it will be better the next time. so yes, i will probably go back, but only after i forget everything from this time.

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