An early taste of what's new on the restaurant scene
The new Daily Grill in Copley Square swears it's modeled after the old American grills of the 1920s. It looks like a big Parisian bistro circa now, but whatever. It feels old in that chic, loosely nostalgic way, and the food is inarguably, disarmingly American. This is the 24th of these restaurants to pop up in the United States (the first in New England), but where is the visual chaos, zoo-like atmosphere, and mandated flair of your average chain?
For what it's worth, Daily Grill occupies the space of a former Applebee's and, from a style standpoint, it dances on the previous place's grave. This large, pristinely white dining room is moored to yesteryear by dark wood booths and ribbed glass partitions. The staff seems like a holdover, though - young, helpful, a little bit nervous, charismatic, and from around the way. They appear to have a camaraderie you don't get to witness at places half this size. Maybe that's an added bonus of showing up at a quarter to 10 on a weeknight where you can join the businessmen at the bar to watch the Red Sox and Celtics lose in tandem.
Daily Grill's paper menu has a simple design - green typeface on a clean white background - that belies what arrives at the table. The food is simple, but not in a stupid way. Not only do the people in the kitchen know what they're doing, the food tastes as though they care. Take the crab cake. It's served with a shallot-wine reduction and seasoned, somewhat robustly, with Old Bay. Those are fine flourishes (well, the Old Bay should be a requirement). The impressive part, though, is that it appears to be all crab, wonderful lump crab. The ahi tuna served like a sushi boat without the boat: soft chips of seared fish flecked with sesame seeds alongside a bush of fried spinach and pile of pickled cucumbers. Some people don't like their food to touch, but letting the tuna near the vegetables is the right thing to do.
Short ribs here have that high-school health-class textbook look (two long rails of bone-in beef over a pond of vegetables). Ignore that. They're terrific, a little on the fatty side, but terrific. The chef's special included a seared New Bedford scallops entree. They were very good, and yet: When is the last time a buttery scallop was eclipsed by a perfectly cooked risotto? How often does a restaurant even achieve perfectly cooked risotto? There was no mush or oil to speak of, only a pillow of grains and the occasional pea. It should come on the side of everything. It appears to come only with the scallops. There are at least 20 opportunities on this menu to serve it again, but the chef resists. The risotto actually is special.
Daily Grill has the disadvantage of being a place you enter with your guard up. Not only because of the Applebee's thing - that demon seems thoroughly exorcised. It's the new restaurant's neighbors. The
A chaotic atmosphere seems almost preordained (Everybody can't overdrink at Cheesecake, can they?). But for now Daily Grill respects your stomach. The portions are a decent human size, not the ghastly mountains of food you get at a lot places. It's easy to imagine this place becoming the doggie bag dispensary, like some of the neighbors. But for now, feel free to leave your other stomach at home.
Daily Grill, 105 Huntington Ave. 617-424-4400. Entrees, $13.95 to $31.50; wines by the glass $6.75 to $11.75.