Emerson Grill

Wednesday Jun. 1st, 2011

Thank you for an excellent meal.
It was my pleasure.
So, what is your background?
I’m from the Flathead.
No. I mean, you are so gifted. Where have you trained?
Oh, that—I just love to cook.
Look. Let’s examine this new important food revolution that’s sweeping the country and make an honest observation: you can gather the finest local, sustainable, organic, first-pressed, pampered, certified, seasonal, pedigreed and humanely-treated vittles in the area, but unless you know what to do with them, how to turn them into a meal that tantalizes the senses and satisfies the palate, you’ve missed your mark. Fancy words and hubris…all hat and no cattle. Not here. The Emerson Grill is on the mark every time. Each visit to date has hit a bulls-eye for this cantankerous and demanding reviewer. And it is not just knowing what to do with it that makes food rumba–the singlemost important ingredient, soppy as this sounds, is found in the chef’s comment: the guy “loves” to cook. There you have it. There is some sort of weird energy thing that goes through the hands of someone who loves to cook (think: Mom and Grandma) that transports food to another level. (It is my belief that the opposite is true: I swear I can tell with my first bite when food is not respected, violently treated, or “cook” merely means “job.” Again: not here.)
What do you want people to know about the Emerson?
This place is like family; I’ve worked here (front of the house) for years.
We have passion for what we do.
Boy, do they.
Located (duh) in the Emerson Center and boasting an intimate “satellite” location within the same building, the Emerson evokes comparison to some boutique-y bistro tucked into a streetscape in Provence or Tuscany. Open early for brunch on weekends and for dinner service otherwise, it simply does not disappoint. For the life of me, I cannot think of a better metaphor than that of the ideal “little black dress.” Slap on a pair of sandals and add a colorful scarf and you are ready for the day; add heels and a string of pearls and let the night begin. That’s this place, morphing throughout the day from decadent brioche French toast and the most amazing Croque Monsieur this side of Paris (Really. Except maybe cut the brioche a millimeter less thick.) to a sexy little night rendezvous over Caprese and Spaghetti Carbonara. (Note: gluten-free pasta available.)

The Emerson is clean, has the good sense to display art and play music that soothes and enhances dining, and has a superbly efficient and friendly waitstaff. Attention to each patron is well executed and steady without nagging. Their dinner menu reads like the chalkboard at a cozy piazza restaurante in Florence or Sienna and pushes the Italia end of things without ignoring American staples like local rib eye, pork chops and organic chicken, with enough meatless choices to satisfy discriminating vegetarians. All food is housemade, resonating with that special ingredient (see above), pleasing picky palates such as you-know-who writing this piece. “Housemade” is part of the current foodie lingua franca and is bantered about on menus just about everywhere these days. Well it should. It’s high time we abandoned the foods of modern commerce and all those weird ingredients that come from a chemical plant in Jersey and get back to the real stuff. (If you had a clue to what comprises your salad dressing in many places, for example, you’d stick pins in your eyes. Don’t forget: I am a nutrition educator; I know these things.) One more time: not here. And good for them! Good enough reason to support a place like this. The fact that it is a gem is a huge bonus.

The Emerson Grill has a sensible but excellent beverage selection. Sticking to its emphasis on local, a good assortment of beers from regional brewers is available, as is an impressive but—thank you!– not tediously long selection of wine. Wine, I might add, that is served in a proper glass. An outstanding Santa Barbara Pinot, Au Bon Climat, hit so many high notes it will become a new favorite in our household. And what a delightful surprise to see that the Emerson has a corkage fee, allowing you to bring in your favorite varietal for dinner. Or brunch. Or whatever. (The only low note was the chlorinated water. By gawd, I think I will start a one-woman campaign to get restaurants to filter their water. Please! Get a Brita or some such thing and stop dipping out of the neighborhood swimming pool.)

The Emerson Grill is, indeed, a gem, one that has earned and deserves added sparkle with five stars. Six, if it were possible. Dig out your little black dress, don some sandals or heels, grab your partner, and go taste some of that Pinot. I am fairly confident you will not be disappointed, because, after all, the chef at this place loves to cook… and the entire staff is passionate about your comfort and enjoyment.

Cynthia Yates cut her teeth in the restaurant business, ran a café in the middle of nowhere, hosted a popular wine group & was active in the Slow Food movement. An author of several books, she has been known to eat on a regular basis.