One of the ways that serving as your local restaurant critic has warped my sensibilities is my delight in encountering dishes I have never seen before.
Meeting something new is always a bright spot even if the dish is a dud or the place leaves me cold. That said, I won't dish out demerits for playing it safe, and serving up the usual suspects in the usual sauces. Sometimes safe is just the ticket, especially when you are in unfamiliar territory or are responsible for feeding people who are suspicious of new things.
When I arrived at the Waterstone Grill, my first thought was that it looked like a chain restaurant. Learning that it was previously a Bob Evans made sense, considering its architecture and location off Exit 57 of Interstate 90. At dinner there, I found that Waterstone Grill offers predictable food in a predictable setting. Predictably, it left me shrugging.
Step inside and you're in a bar room lined with swaths of stone wall, chocolate-brown wood and a gas fireplace. Large tables, comfortable chairs and booths are available for seating. Décor includes beer posters and wine bottle paintings, as well as flat-screen televisions, one urging diners to like the Waterstone Grill on Facebook.
I glanced at the specialty cocktails collection, which lists a Classic Mojito with rum, mint and soda but no lime. I wondered why the Drunken Palmer has tea, lemonade and Stolichnaya Razberi vodka, when Palmer had his picture on bottles of Ketel One. I drank beer.
Starters included the usual suspects, such as spinach artichoke dip ($10) and a Portobello mushroom flatbread ($9). My favorite usual suspect, fried calamari ($11), was in fine form, with rings and tentacles in a golden crust. Green olive slices provided briny bursts of Mediterranean accent, and smoky-spicy mayonnaise added range.
Another straightforward standard was stuffed peppers ($9). Long yellow chiles were sliced open and piled with a filling that was more sausage than cheese, browned and adorned with shaved Parmesan. The peppers weren't tender, but it was a solid meat-lover's version of the classic.
The appearance of deep-fried duck wings ($9) would have been unusual a few years ago. The half-dozen gnaw-worthy bones were like elongated chicken drumettes, with more emphatic poultry flavor. The crispy batons weren't tossed in sauce, instead offered with a ramekin of sweet chile dip.
It will come as no surprise that entrée choices included sandwiches, steak, seafood, chicken, pork and pasta.
The 18-ounce bone-in ribeye ($38) arrived covered in peppercorn brandy sauce, cooked accurately and moderately crusted. The green bean, red bell pepper and carrot vegetable medley included yellow carrots as a wildcard, though they were noticeably chewy. A pork chop ($21) was also cooked well, then submerged in an sticky-sweet sauce that reminded me of bourbon apple pie.
Roasted half duck ($26, pictured as lead image) was properly cooked, with well-browned skin and moist flesh. Buttery mashed potatoes added to the classic comfort food profile, with more vegetable medley.
Pan-seared scallops ($27.50) offered four medium-sized mollusks in a just-tangy-enough lemon butter sauce, with firm-grained rice pilaf specked with diced squash and bell pepper. The scallops had just barely started to get a tan; I prefer a harder sear.
My favorite dish of the night was a well-executed version of the upscale-casual dining cliché that is sesame-crusted tuna ($27). Tuna steak was crusted in white and black sesame seeds, then seared. The fish was rare pink inside, with a nutty, toasty crust, swaddled in a sweet ginger teriyaki sauce that happily jazzed up the proceedings.
Asparagus ($5) was properly tender, not mushy. Other side dishes disappointed. Mac and cheese ($6.50) was under-cheesed and bland, while a loaded baked potato ($6) had an ungenerous helping of bacon and cheddar.
Our server was businesslike, but perhaps spread too thin. She arrived with entrees before clearing salad plates. Before asking for our dessert order, she stacked used dishes on a tray near our table, where they remained.
Desserts, not made in-house, included a tender-crusted walnut-studded baklava cheesecake ($9), a gummy warm apple pie ($8) and a Snickers peanut butter pie ($9) whose dense over-the-top sweetness cured me of the itch to visit that new cookie dough store at the Walden Galleria. The table's favorite was a vanilla cake with a lemon cream core ($8) that was everything you could want from an adult Twinkie.
If I was a stranger in town, pulling off the highway to stay at the Red Roof Inn, I would have been satisfied with my meal. But this was Hamburg, where my dining map has blossomed of late. Knowing what was down the road I left full, but not satisfied.
Waterstone Grill - 7 plates (out of 10)
3679 Commerce Road, Hamburg (646-4400)
Hours: 11:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday; noon to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday; 9:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday.
Price range: Starters, $7-$12; sandwiches, $12.50-$18; and entrees, $15-$55.
Gluten-free options: Many, including salads, steaks, seafood.