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Beefing up

The Grill at Feather Sound has a new chef and a better attitude, and the meat dishes are benefitting. But even more improvement is needed.

By CHRIS SHERMAN, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times, published August 22, 2002


The Grill at Feather Sound has a new chef and a better attitude, and the meat dishes are benefitting. But even more improvement is needed.

When the Grill at Feather Sound opened in 1996, the high-tech, big-deal wedge around the Home Shopping Network's headquarters got the snazzy restaurant of its big-bucks dreams, an eye-popping flash of contemporary restaurant design: metal, glass, marble, dark woods, sleek, shiny and sharp.

And mid Pinellas got its first solid taste of modern cooking: veal chops, duck confit and lobster napoleons garnished with a large garden of vegetables, buerre blanc sauces and new pastas, flavored with a world of spices. In less than a year, the Grill's food began to slip, although it kept the crowds and one of the busiest -- and loudest -- business bars in town.

Returning to top levels of culinary grace has been hard.

This year the Grill made a promising step up by bringing in a new chef, Marshall Jewell from Lilly's and La Peche II, two of Louisville, Ky.'s, top restaurants, but the Grill still has a ways to go.

Jewell's cooking combines smooth saucery with flavors of a cuisine that might be called Nouvelle Kentucky, which shows up in smoked turkey and applewood bacon Cobb, and a pork shank that stands taller than osso buco.

That's not a stretch for the local appetite for steak and potatoes, especially among the high-rolling carnivores. And the frontier can provide a good, if unstated, theme for dressing up red meat, as Jewell does with garnishes such as sassafras jus for prime rib and tomato horseradish butter for the filet mignon.

On the main plate, country cousins are pretty slick. That pork shank is a stunner visually and slow-cooked to moist perfection, poised on mashed potatoes and a pool of demi glace that's as rich as the meat.

Appalachian chicken pot pie reminds you why anyone in need of comfort loves it so. The Grill's trick is to fill the pie with a veloute cream, fresh green beans and shiitake, and top it with a crisp cream cheese crust, adding snap to the warmth. A little fresh corn might help.

The Grill's other big step is that the kitchen again cares about side dishes. Pairing hearty meats with accompaniments such as sweet corn risotto cakes and lentils and walnuts was a highlight of the Grill's glory days; though the kitchen is improving, it's a rarity today.

On Jewell's new dinner menu, a la carte sides show new respect for starches and vegetables, including a baked potato mash and haricots verts (properly crisp despite too much butter). Vidalia onion pudding is a winning innovation.

I had less luck with seafood and salads, although the kitchen is still quite generous, preparing them for trencher folk, not dieters. The house salad is packed with chicken breast and Swiss, and the lunchtime tropical salad is loaded with five good-size shrimp, strawberries, mandarin oranges and coconut (and oddly roasted red pepper).

Two other temptations failed on the plate. "Flash-fried" calamari on a Caesar salad looked and tasted more like prebreaded onion rings, and pastel tortilla strips looked tacky. Grilled vegetables on bibb lettuce were perfectly done except for eggplant, which was as tough and cottony as when I do them at home.

Fish plates were unexciting. Crab cakes were all crab, but all finely picked claw meat. Roasted vegetable sauce with black grouper was a deep, husky gravy, but the fish was seasoned with little more than butter and paprika, and accompanied by a little yellow rice. When we said we were disappointed, the kitchen replaced it with a thick hunk of tuna quickly and with no questions.

A lobster tail on an Asian salad of noodles and julienne vegetables was a luxury, with a nifty addition of crab wontons, but it needed zing. And the noodles had no ginger, lemongrass, cilantro, lime or rice vinegar to punch them up.

Most trimmings were appropriately plush. A tart of port and pears was light and sophisticated, the flourless cake with Belgian chocolate darkly delicious. The wine list is long in good wines of all varieties, even in the $20 to $30 range, and it has plenty of wise buys for the dealmakers, from Galante cabernet to a 3-liter bottle of Clos du Val's '95. And the setting remains as sharp and glossy as it gets in mid Pinellas.

Bread, however, was only three rolls, a selection that makes you wish you were next door at Panera. Service varies too widely; at one meal the server was suave and polished, at another the waiter tried twice to wipe the table and never got the crumbs off.

Still, there is a new chef in place and progress. I hope the Grill's owners appreciate that a high-end meal of meat and potatoes is not a simple thing. What we'd love is a place that serves red meat with modern style and flavor. The Grill can be that place.

The Grill at Feather Sound

Clearwate

(727) 571-3400 Reservations: recommended

Credit cards: most

Hours: lunch, 11:30 a.m. to 2:45 p.m. Monday-Friday; dinner, 5:30-10 p.m. Monday-Saturday.

Details: full bar; smoking section provided; outdoor seating; valet parking.

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