A Matter of Taste: A Short, Savvy Menu with Lots of Style, by Robert Levey, Oct. 3, 1985

“Everything’s loose and easy at the East Coast Grill, a new Cambridge bistro serving up a short, savvy menu that is strong on excellent grilled seafood, hearty soups and Southern barbecue.

Actually, at the moment, things may be a little too loose. While the country and rock music lopes along in the background, you run the risk of having your piece of superior grilled swordfish reach the table while you’re midway through a bowl of delicious thick spicy black bean soup. Kitchen pacing and table service want some fine tuning.

But it’s an exciting eatery and if the talented guys manning the grill can shift down from overdrive and the waitresses transcend some blase habits, which included neglecting to wipe tables between courses, this is going to shape up as one dandy place to eat. The food itself is right on the money.

The restaurant opened just five weeks ago in the former location of the Turtle Cafe. Owners Chris Schlesinger and Cary Wheaton spiffed up the interior with lots of light green high gloss paint and hints of Deco design in the lighting scheme. The open grilling station that is in full view at the back of the restaurant contributes some enjoyable steamy atmosphere.

For starters, the East Coast Grill will be a magnet for that segment of the dining public with a yen to sample the three kinds of Southern barbecue on the menu. All the barbecue platters are hefty affairs supplemented by a simple red cabbage coleslaw, interesting baked beans, fine jalapeno cornbread and a chunk of watermelon.

You can opt for a rack of Missouri spareribs, sliced Texas beef BBQ or most unusual for these parts, a tempting mound of shredded North Carolina pork BBQ. There is also a groaning ‘trio’ platter that offers a reduced portion of all three barbecue styles.

This kind of finger-lickin’ food can cast an addictive spell and the East Coast Grill versions, if not perfectly authentic, are handled with obvious skill and would please all but the most chauvinistic devotees of these Southern culinary genres.

If barbecue leaves you cold, there are many other options that display the kitchen’s gifted grill cooking. The fishes we sampled were splendid, particularly a glorious, thick fillet of fresh tuna that was seared to black on the outside and remained as raw as Japanese sashimi on the inside — we were cautioned that it would be cooked that way. The tuna was served with a bit of green chili sauce to give it some bite and it was a remarkable piece of fish.

Another diverting tuna treatment came as an appetizer of four cubes of fish that had been grilled on a skewer and then served on a medium hot tomato chile sauce garnished with a bit of fresh coriander.

Swordfish serves as my own most reliable benchmark for judging a grill cook’s ability with fish: here, it came up a winner, barely cooked through, warm and buttery inside, slightly smoky outside, finished with a bit of peppery sauce and presented with a side of boffo grilled vegetables that included sweet potato slices, eggplant, mushrooms and red cabbage.

Those grilled vegetables, by the way, are also a component in a terrific, unusual salad.

The menu lists a dish as ‘Grilled vegetables and fruit with mixed greens’ and it was not a description that particularly beckoned to me. But I gave it a try and it turned out to be a dish straight out of Veg-head Heaven. The large bowl was lined with fresh, soft greens that were tossed with a warm, grilled vegetable assortment, a few cool chunks of melon, an outstanding, restrained warm vinaigrette and a sprinkle of sesame seeds. Truly different and truly worthy.

Pastas take a different tack here, too. To wit: ginger pasta with shrimp and monkfish. This mound of good ginger-scented ribbon pasta was moistened with oil and tossed with grilled shrimp and grilled chunks of pleasantly chewy monkfish.

Another version, tomato and spinach pasta with grilled shrimp and vegetables, was a plate that presented a complex tangle of colors and textures and tasted darn good.

Even the soups rise to special heights, judged by examples like a milkless corn chowder with a fresh, nutty bite to it and an extraordinary black bean soup that was more like a peppery stew of black beans finished with a contrasting dollop of sour cream and tomato salsa.

Among desserts, the apple strudel pie, homemade apple pie and peach rum bread pudding each had down-home appeal. The Mississippi Mud Cake, on the other hand, was an anonymous chocolate cake.

Good bread is wrapped in a cloth napkin after warming the crust in the oven just before serving. Espresso is fragrant, strong and real.

A short list of about a dozen wines is offered, but half of them can also be ordered by the half-bottle. The 1983 Shafer chardonnay ($20) was especially pleasing. The 1983 Frick white zinfandel ($14) was light and fruity. The modest 1984 Orvieto Classico from Barbi ($12) was serviceable.

For the barbecue crowd, which will be seeking a good glass of beer, there is an informative beer list offering 11 domestic entries including the excellent, new locally-owned Sam Adams beer as well as Anchor Steam from San Francisco, New Amsterdam from Utica, N.Y. and Augsburger from Wisconsin.

The East Coast Grill is doing something different and doing it right.

Robert Levey is The Globe’s restaurant critic.”

-Excerpt and images courtesy of Newspapers.com, The Boston Globe, “A Matter of Taste: A Short, Savvy Menu with Lots of Style,” by Robert Levey, The Boston Globe’s first restaurant review of the East Coast Grill, three and a half stars, Oct. 3, 1985

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