Sunday, April 18, 2010
Yes, it has been a month since the last blog post. We haven't eaten at many exciting places in a while. But that ended last Friday night when we went with a relatively large group (9 total people) to Sweet Grass, a newly opened place in the Cooper Young Area. In fact, this restaurant opened just a few days before we went; so we made it on the opening weekend. If one word summed up our experience, it would be "low-country." (see the above picture). We went and worked our game in the "low country." Of course, I'm not really sure what "low-country" cuisine means. But we definitely experienced it at Sweet Grass.
Aesthetically, the interior of the restaurant fits the Cooper Young Area nicely. It is very pleasing and pretty chic with an interesting selection of paintings on the wall. It was pretty full when we went, but the layout handled the noise well and everyone at our large table could hear everyone else. The ambiance was pretty good too. Dim but not too dark. I think it would be a pretty good place for a first date or a good place to converse over a meal.
First, the good. I really enjoyed the structure of the menu. It is divided into small plates ($4-10), medium plates ($13-17), and large plates ($22-24). Thus, you really have a lot of options depending on how hungry you are and how much you want to spend. I very much appreciate that in light of the need for us (and most people) to save up. I really think the flexibility of the menu and its variety are the best part of the restaurant and is something that will set it apart from everyone else.
As for the food, it was pretty good, but not great. Neel and I made use of the flexible menu and got two medium plates. I got the grilled portobello, zucchini, eggplant, tomato, goat cheese croutons, basil pesto and balsamic reduction for $14. Basically, grilled veggies + goat cheese + balsamic. I really enjoy grilled veggies and this really hit the spot. Good but not great. Worth $14 though.
Neel got the shrimp and grits with sea scallops and andouille sausage. She enjoyed it and remarked how the dish was extremely flavorful, with a kick but not too spicy. It was a rich dish and Neel definitely would get it again. I tried it as well and thought it was again pretty good but not great. I did like the combo of sea scallops and sausage, a bit unusual for a shrimp and grits dish.
When we decided to get two "medium" plates, I was a bit concerned whether there would be enough food. But they gave us healthy portions. So when I combined my meal with a piece or two of the complimentary bread, I was full. I was hungry but not starving going into the experience; so if I were very hungry, I would probably opt for a large plate, but most times I think that the medium plate would suffice. I think a good bet would be to get two medium plates and then go for a dessert; or switch out the dessert for an an appetizer (small plate).
I think most people at our table enjoyed the food but no one found it amazing. One person got the quail and thought it a bit too chewy. Another person said the mussels were great, but they thought the shrimp and grits were a bit too salty. So, overall the food was a tad hit and miss but good overall .
Another plus was that the chef came out and conversed with us after the meal. I was impressed because he flat out asked for constructive criticism and on how they can improve. It's always encouraging to see a chef willing to consider the wishes of the people.
As for the bad, the service was a bit spotty. Part of me wants to contribute that to the fact that it was opening weekend and they still need to work out the kinks. But our food came out at different times, and I almost finished my dish before others got theirs. Other things also took a while to come to the table, whether another drink or more bread, etc. Again, I'm willing to give them the benefit of the doubt on these points: our table was pretty large, it was opening weekend, it was pretty crowded. Next time I go, I'm hopeful that they will have worked out everything.
Overall, I would compare Sweet Grass to a place like Cafe 1912, but the latter has much better food and better service. Yet, it's like Cafe 1912 in the sense that it's a restaurant that fits into that medium category (not inexpensive but not overly expensive). And Memphis doesn't have many places like that. I do think Sweet Grass would be a pretty good date place that is not too tough on the wallet. I am also hopeful that Sweet Grass will continue to improve after some trial and error. Thus, in light of these positives and some negatives, we give Sweet Grass 3.0 stars.