I like the big-city sprawl of the Dakota Grill. Though it's located in a very suburban plaza, it reminds me of the old-fashioned restaurants that used to be a dime a dozen in Manhattan's theater district. Large, bustling, complete with a long bar and music biz caricatures on the walls, it makes you think of deals made over fat cigars (in fact, there is a separate cigar bar attached to the restaurant) and even bigger steaks -- and there are many of those, too, on the bill of fare.
Ah, those were the days!
The Dakota changed hands a while ago, though, and the menu seems to have become much more contemporary. We enjoyed, for instance, one of the very "in" starters of the moment: Rack of Lamb Lollipops ($13) -- also known as decadence on a plate.
In this splashy appetizer, frenched rib lamb chops were served up with a green apple slaw -- nice combination of flavors, that. But here's the real of-the-moment kicker: The meat is marinated in chimichurri sauce, the Argentinian melange of olive oil, vinegar and parsley that's just beginning to be trendy. You'll be seeing more of it in the future, you can bet on it.
But at the Dakota, the sauce boasts a hint of mint as well as parsley. Sure beats mint jelly with lamb to my way of thinking -- but then, of course, also to my way of thinking, almost anything does.
Another starter was almost a meal. Pancetta Portabella Mushroom ($9), in which the huge cap was filled with sauteed bacon, spinach and feta cheese, was a very savory beginning to dinner.
As mentioned above, steaks in this place are plentiful. There's a 10-ounce Black & Bleu Filet of Sirloin (the meat is topped with a bleu cheese and cracker crust) for $22; a USDA choice 16-ounce center cut New York Strip Loin (with truffle butter and tobacco onions), $27; or a 24-ounce Cowboy Steak, which really is a bone-in rib eye ($35).
If you insist on USDA prime -- and many do -- the Dakota has that, too, in the form of a 16-ounce New York Strip for $43. It's served with a three-peppercorn glaze.
If you're not in the mood for steak, however, there's room to wander. We ordered (oh so modestly) Chicken Flora for $18. And what, you ask, might this be? Simply a 10-ounce kosher chicken breast that has been sauteed with pancetta, sun-dried tomatoes, artichoke hearts and asparagus. It's finished with a Chardonnay veal glaze, and we thought it was mighty good.
Or, you might opt for seafood. But the Three Nut Crusted Chilean Seabass ($25) -- say it fast three times, and it's yours -- was, I'm sorry to say, a disappointment. The fish was pan-seared and featured a passion-fruit glaze, but the glaze wasn't enough to hide the fact that it had been overcooked a little. Definitely dry.
You can also go the pasta route and order Wild Mushroom Taglarinni with chicken for $19. Or there's the Pappardelle Primavera with herbs and artichokes and spinach, capers and olives. That comes in at $18.
WHERE: 5224 Maple Road, Amherst (834-6600). Large, urban restaurant specializing in hearty contemporary food. Credit Cards: American Express, Master Card, Visa.
FAVORITE DISH: Chicken Flora
NEEDS WORK: Three Nut Crusted Chilean Seabass
PRICE RANGE: Entrees from $17 come with vegetables. Many $20 and up.
SERVICE: Very good
NOISE LEVEL: Moderate
HOURS: Dinner only. Monday through Thursday, 5 to 10. Friday and Saturday 5 to 11.
HEALTHY CHOICES: Bourbon Street Salmon, Chicken Flora, Pan Seared Day Boat Scallops.
WHEELCHAIR ACCESS: Yes
PARKING: In the plaza.
KID APPEAL: Older children only.