It's odd when one person can eat two entrees and still have room for dessert. But at the Downtown Grille, where the paltry portions do not correspond with the steep prices, we'd have no problem believing that.
Nestled in an airy space on the Downtown Mall, the restaurant cooks up usual grille fare served by the bow-tied waitstaff on tables dressed in white linen.
The interior features a tall ceiling, wood-paneled walls, columns that house wine bottles and an open kitchen in the back of the restaurant. And with entree prices ranging from $14.95 to $26.95, it is no surprise that hosts here dress up for Charlottesville's high school seniors on prom night.
Featuring usual grille fare, the restaurant's menu consists of several cuts of beef - filet mignon ($24.95), a rib-eye ($24.95) and a New York strip ($24.95), as well as different chops including veal ($27.95), lamb ($26.95) and pork ($14.95). A variety of seafood options round out the menu, including tuna, salmon, Chilean seabass, crab cakes and a couple of seafood medley dishes, one of which includes shrimp, sea scallops and tuna on a vegetable risotto bed. The seafood entrees range in price from $18.95 to $25.95.
Disappointingly, the entrees are sparsely accompanied. The pork chop plate contained only a small pork chop adorned with about eight apple slices and a decorative leafy thing. Similarly sparse, the Chilean seabass was submerged in a salsa-concoction of red peppers and onions seasoned with parsley, but nothing more.
Perhaps in recognizing the meagerness of the meal, the Downtown Grille's menu does contain a section on side dishes priced around $3 to $4. Mostly vegetable staples, like baked potato, mashed potatoes, sautŽed mushrooms and a daily fresh vegetable, they are a welcome supplement to the entrees. The mashed potatoes, recommended by the waiter, were excellent, garlicky and slightly textured. The serving sizes of the sides, in comparison to the entrees, are hearty and could easily be shared. It's just a shame they aren't included in the entrŽe prices.
Each entrŽe is preceded by a salad, which literally is a quarter of a head of iceberg lettuce. So it looks good, but really, it's just a head of lettuce. It's drizzled with heavy vinaigrette and topped with crumbled blue cheese. Although this form of salad has become increasingly popular, especially in grilles, the lack of leaf diversity is boring.
For a few dollars more, a patron can substitute the lettuce wedge for a Caesar salad, a spinach salad with warm bacon dressing, or a tomato and onion salad. Diners beware: The eye-watering tomato and onion salad is for onion fans only. It is not exactly date- friendly.
The tasty desserts helped redeem the earlier part of the meal. Priced around $4 to $5 each, a crme brulŽe, New York cheesecake or apple tart would complement a meat entrŽe while key lime pie, bananas foster or fresh seasonal berries would pleasantly complement a fish entrŽe. Also offered for chocolate lovers is an excellent chocolate mousse tart. A crunchy chocolate cookie crust topped with rich, smooth chocolate mousse is a delightful end to a meal. Also worth mentioning, the tart key lime pie was one of the best ones we've tasted in Charlottesville.
There are a lot of nice things about the Downtown Grille; the entrees are well prepared, the dining room is spacious and attractive and the wine list is extensive. Even the host, upon retrieving your coat from the cloakroom, holds the coat up while you settle into it. But these all seem to be diminished under the restaurant's biggest drawback - the small entrŽe portions, each with a considerable price tag.