Friday, November 18, 2011

A glass of wine, a crying baby and a clucking chicken

Vineyards in Napa Valley.
There's a Napa Valley Grille in Westwood, Calif.; Bloomington, Minn., and Paramus.

In North Jersey, why do you find a California-style wine restaurant at the mall? 

Napa Valley Grille opened at Garden State Plaza in Paramus at least a decade ago, and the owners still haven't corrected the misspelling of grill (an automobile or SUV has a grille).

On my first-ever visit this evening, the hostess seemed friendly enough, but I soon found myself sitting alone in an empty room, one of three with tables.

My back was to a serving station, where bread was cut and plated with a shallow dish of olive oil, and beyond that, the open kitchen.

I was startled to hear one server say to another in a loud voice, "What's up, Bro?" Then, I heard what sounded like a clucking chicken. Another server broke into song, and it was no better than the rock-and-roll soundtrack, which seemed out of place.

Why not the Beach Boys and other California groups?

It was early, around 5:15 or 5:30. The large staff didn't have much to do. One passed the time polishing wine glasses with a napkin, but others talked, clucked or sang. The males wore jeans. 

All of this didn't make a good impression on me in a fine-dining restaurant.

I declined the bread to stay on my diet, and ordered a roasted pear salad with walnuts and blue cheese, but I don't eat meat, so I asked the waitress to hold the pancetta ($10). 

I also asked for a glass of pinot noir, and it turned out to be a half-glass ($8). It was drinkable, and got smoother during the meal.

My entree was that night's special: mahi-mahi in a white-wine reduction with spinach and potatoes ($24), and I asked for it without the usual "touch of butter."

The waitress took my order, but the salad was brought to me by another server.

The greens had been mounded on the plate and topped with a circle of grilled pancetta. I looked around for the waitress, then saw an employee in a sports jacket.

He took the salad away and said he'd get me another. I asked if I could be seated elsewhere, someplace without so much noise, so he took me into another room and gave me a booth. A young couple with two small children were directly behind me.

The boy was younger than the girl, and he soon started to wail. I just stared at the wine-country mural in front of me, and tried to enjoy my new salad, even though the roasted pear wedges weren't warm, as I had expected.

After I finished, another server brought me the fish -- three pieces of grilled mahi-mahi stacked on top of steamed fresh spinach and framed by skin-on potato wedges.

The fresh fish was cooked perfectly, but it needed lemon, so I fished a wedge out of my water glass. Later, a male server brought me more lemon to squeeze over the mahi-mahi.

Twice, the waitress walked by, asking, "You OK?" The second time, she added, "Enjoy."

My total was $44.94, but I had a LivingSocial voucher for $40 (I paid $20). I added a $7 tip to the $4.94 balance.

I probably won't return. When buying a voucher from Groupon, LivingSocial and other sites, I guess you have to ask yourself why are these restaurants selling their meals at roughly 50% off.

Napa Valley Grille, Westfield Garden State Plaza, Routes 4 and 17, 
near California Pizza Kitchen and J.C. Penney; 201-845-5555. 
Open seven days for lunch or Sunday brunch and dinner.

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  1. I always wondered about this place, it always seems empty. Took a look at their online menu and see that both the name of the chef and the general manager are written in letters that are the same size as the entrees at the bottom. Are these people trying to sell food or appease their own egos?


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