I've dined at the Holiday Inn restaurant in most of its recent forms, and my sister and I have both worked there at one time or another. So when we trudged in from the cold last weekend, we thought knew what to expect. We've also been to Isabella's, the other eatery run by restaurateur Drew Nicastro. So Jack and I figured we had the Richmond Grille pegged.
We were greeted by muted colors, hardwood and candles. I was immediately put at my ease as a respite from the outside world, the Richmond succeeds admirably. The ambiance is more inviting than in any of the eatery's previous incarnations. However, for a Saturday evening, the place was surprisingly empty.
The eatery doesn't yet have its liquor license, so we picked up a bottle of Kendall Jackson sauvignon blanc. I was delighted at how quickly our server iced the bottle there's nothing worse than warm white wine. (Except no wine at all.)
We ordered the spinach and artichoke dip ($7) for our appetizer. It was the perfect portion for two people. We both gave the dip a thumbs-up: It was more artichoke than spinach and cheese, lending it a slightly stronger, more musky flavor. The slight deviation elevated it past the normal pub fare.
My first bite of salad drew an audible reaction from me. I consider myself something of a tomato connoisseur, and the grape tomatoes on my plate were legitimately the sweetest I've ever had this time of year. Mid-winter, tomatoes tend to be fleshy and sometimes bitingly sour. The best one can hope for is tolerable. I found myself asking my friend / our server if the Richmond got their tomatoes from some special, local farm, but I guess they just got lucky. Tomatoes aside, the side salad was one of the highlights of the meal. The greens were leafy and crisp, the lemon vinaigrette had just the right amount of bite. I tend to judge restaurants on the quality of their lettuce. If I'm served a brown, limp piece of Iceberg, I'm put off by the whole place. So the Richmond's fresh, summer-reminiscent salad got my vote and my sister's in a serious way.
I ordered the sole ($13) for my entrée; Jackie got the Main Street chicken ($14). I'm an on-again, off-again vegetarian who recently jumped back on the meat-free train. The Richmond has somewhat of a limited menu, so my choices included a few salads and the baked sole. But the Richmond doesn't claim to have a vast, specialized menu. As a matter of fact, they take pride in the opposite. "Comfort food for the weary traveler" is the phrase Nicastro has used in The Eagle and the Transcript. So although the menu is limited, it makes no bones about its purpose.
My sole was delicate and flaky, easy to cut with just a fork, but not wet or weak. But it, like much of my meal, was covered in butter. The Richmond's chefs should let their cooking shine through. A little bit of butter would have enhanced my dish, but the amount on my sole was detrimental to its flavor. I enjoyed my fish, but found myself trying to slough off some of the butter and seasoning.
Jackie's chicken was served whole, which put her off somewhat. I liked the idea. As a nonmeat-eater, I suppose I should have been more alarmed, but after all, I'm a casual vegetarian. After getting over her qualms about the meal's form, Jackie dug in. She had the exact opposite problem that I did: Her chicken was a little dry. That problem was easily amended by ordering some of the lemon vinaigrette dressing.
The absolute best part of our entrées was the green beans served on the side. Drizzled lightly with butter and shaved almonds, the beans were cooked to perfection. They retained their crispness and firmness without sacrificing temperature. And unlike the rest of my dish, the butter was minimal, not overpowering.
One failing, Jackie and I agreed, was our rice. Neither of us liked it. Jackie (who hosts her own cooking show in Ludlow, and is therefore something of an expert) said the rosemary was overwhelming, and I agreed it was hard to taste anything besides that spice.
The restaurant earned points for its excellent service. Our server was prompt without rushing us, friendly without imposing on my "date." If I were judging on the waitstaff alone, the Richmond would earn a perfect score.
With its warm atmosphere and down-home style food, the Richmond Grill achieves its goal as a place of comfort and nourishment for travelers. The food, staff and atmosphere is inviting and relaxing. But beware: With its limited selection and seasoning-heavy method, this place is not for the discerning palate.
If you go ...
What: The Richmond Grill
Where: The Holiday Inn, 40 Main St., North Adams
Hours: 5 to 9 p.m.
On the menu: 'Comfort food for the weary traveler' pub fare.
Reservations: (413) 663-6500.