Last December, I wrote about a lunchtime visit to Beau's Grille located in the Hilton Hotel Akron Fairlawn. I had made a mental note to myself while researching the menu online that dinner seemed a bit pricey and that lunch was much more reasonable. Having had a successful lunch visit, I decided that a return visit for dinner was in order. Clearly my mind must have been preoccupied with other distractions for the last eleven months because my follow-up visit didn't happen until just recently.
In fact, it was completely spur of the moment. On a Thursday night with literally nothing better to do, I pulled out of the parking lot at work and as I drove east on West Market Street, the Hilton's illumination gradually became visible through the falling rain. Taking just a moment to decide, I pulled off into the parking lot for the hotel, grabbed an umbrella and my camera bag, and walked towards the hotel's main entrance:
Once inside the main door, a door bearing Beau's name on it was on the left:
This was the exit from the bar area and not really the proper entrance to the restaurant. For that, I walked into the main lobby, made a left turn, and approached the hostess waiting just beyond the opened double doors. I was a little worried they might be too busy to accommodate a walk-in on a Thursday night, but as the restaurant was only about half full, she greeted me cheerfully and led me to a two top and left me with the menu to peruse:
While Chef Beau Schmidt may indeed rotate seasonal item on the daily specials menu, the printed menu looked eerily familiar to the one I had used during my last visit. If the menu items looked similar, then it didn't surprise me to see the same high prices for the food. I don't mind paying for value, but when appetizers start climbing past the $10 price point, I start to sit up and take notice.
In a rather unusual move, when my water came to the table to take my order, he didn't remove the napkin, silverware, glass, or side plate at the setting across from me, which is usually standard at most restaurants (it frees up the table from unnecessary clutter). Seeing as I needed the extra space to set up my camera in order to get the shots I would need for this review, I moved some of these items to the side of the table and actually stacked the other side plate on top of mine to make room. In an even more unusual move, when he saw that I had moved the other setting, he actually reset the opposite side of the table right in front of me. That was the first inkling I had that something odd was up with the service.
Regardless, after placing my order, my server returned with the Bread Service:
And accompanying the warmed rolls were cold pats of butter:
Generally speaking, I prefer butter being softened when it arrives at the table, even if the bread is warm or hot. While the rolls and butter were good in both flavor and texture, having to wait for the butter to melt on the bread was a minor inconvenience. Were this an establishment that was less expensive, I probably wouldn't have given it too much thought. At Beau's Grille, all of these little details should have already been anticipated.
For my appetizer, I decided to start with the Fried Green Tomato "BLT":
As the food runner approached my table with this nearly toppling tower of tomatoes, I thought to myself that this couldn't possibly be my appetizer as it was large enough for an entire meal. Sure enough, it was mine. In addition to the fresh red and yellow heirloom tomato slices, green tomatoes had been sliced, dredged, and fried to a golden brown. The entire stack had been skewered in order to provide stability and then placed on arugula. Two separate aiolis, basil and red pepper, dressed the salad and crispy pancetta was strewn throughout.
As I removed the skewer and allowed the contents to topple down onto the plate, I began to remember my previous experience during lunch. Yes, Beau's prices are high, but the portion sizes are ENORMOUS, each easily split between two or three diners. Like I mentioned earlier, had this been all I ordered, I probably wouldn't have needed anything else for dinner. Right away, I decided to only eat about one-third of the dish in order to save room for future courses.
As for the appetizer itself, it was quite tasty. The heirloom tomatoes had flavor and just a bit of sweetness to them and the fried green tomatoes were crispy on the outside -- having just a bit of snap on the inside with acidity that balanced out the other sweet flavors on the plate. The arugula added a pepperiness, the pancetta added both salty, chewy and savory elements, and the aiolis provided creaminess. Did it really need two aiolis to be a successful dish? No, not particularly, but other than not being able to separate the flavors in my mouth when eaten together, it didn't detract from the overall deliciousness of the dish.
Since I had ordered an entree, I had the option of either getting a free basic side salad or I could add a half-portion of one of the more "plated" salads from the menu for a small upcharge (I believe it was roughly $3). Since I had been eying one of those salads from the get-go, I decided to go ahead and add it to the line-up for tonight.
Here was the Baby Green, Sun-dried Tomato, Artichoke, Buffalo Mozzarella Salad with Balsamic Vinaigrette:
First off, again with the portion size: this was a HALF portion of a salad. I suppose it could've been because I had already eaten so much of my appetizer, but I could've probably done better with half of this "half." I tasted each of the elements on the plate before combining them together into one unified bite. The sun-dried tomatoes, artichokes, and mozzarella were quite tasty (the softness of the cheese was especially gratifying). The baby greens were fresh-looking and crisp. The balsamic vinaigrette, however, really disappointed because it was incredibly sweet. I understand that balsamic vinegar has an inherent level of sweetness to it by nature, but this vinaigrette had been sweetened quite a ways past that. If you like sweet, gentle reader, you might like this. Personally, I found it unbalanced and unsuccessful for this very reason.
After eating about half of my salad, I pushed it away to wait for my final course. The standard table setting at Beau's Grille was two forks, one knife, and one spoon. I had used the first fork and my knife during the appetizer. When I got my salad, I used the second fork. By this point in the meal, I was only left with my spoon. No problem, I figured. When my server brings out the entree and sees I am missing silverware, he'll get me the appropriate pieces.
Sadly, what actually transpired after he brought me the Cavatappi with Grilled Chicken, Roasted and Fresh Tomatoes, Spinach, Garlic, Basil, Lemon and Olive Oil,
was that he simply dropped the plate off and immediately walked away from the table without checking to see if I needed anything else. Being the ever resourceful foodie that I am, I reached across the table and with firm resolve, broke up the silverware set at the spot opposite me at my table. Having retrieved a clean fork, I dug into this dish. Some of the pasta at the rim of the bowl was a bit tepid in temperature, but the food in the center was still nice and hot. That was the good news.
The bad news, gentle reader, was that the pasta was way overcooked, one step below mush. The pasta was also quite bland. This trend seemed pervasive throughout the dish, actually. I tasted component after component and each was either completely unseasoned or grossly underseasoned. While the server had dropped off grated Parmesan cheese for me to apply to my taste, I knew that even with a generous sprinkling of the salty fromage, it would really only season the top of the noodles. Probably the only really assertive flavor in the dish was the garlic, which I couldn't help but notice because of its slight crunch and incredibly pungent flavor -- and indication that it probably hadn't been sauteed enough before building the rest of the sauce.
I probably don't have to mention this as well by this point in the review, but the serving of pasta was enormous.
In the end, I had my server box up the remainder of my appetizer (at least half) and the remaining pasta (at least two-thirds) and asked for my check. As I suspected after doing some mental math, the check with tax and tip came to roughly $31-$32. I wasn't sure if I was going to eat the rest of the pasta for breakfast or lunch, but I figured for that much money, I'd at least give myself the option.
I'm torn on Beau's Grille. The food and service during my first visit was fairly good. In fact, good enough to spur me to return for a dinner service. While the Fried Green Tomato "BLT" was definitely worth ordering, the cloyingly sweet vinaigrette on my salad and my way overcooked and underseasoned cavatappi left me quite a bit unsatisfied. That the server came off as quite aloof and not particularly helpful, I am only left to conclude that if the restaurant is having a good night, you'll receive the same in kind. If not, well then, I hope you enjoy your pasta mushy and with very little flavor.