Del Frisco’s Grille
Walt Whitman Shops, 160 Walt Whitman Rd., Huntington Station
SERVICE: Clearly reading from a well-written script, but not always with feeling
AMBIENCE: Cavernous space with an energetic vibe that’s just short of too noisy. On busy nights, be prepared to wait despite a reservation.
ESSENTIALS: Lunch 11:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday to Saturday; dinner 4 to 10 p.m. Monday to Thursday, 4 to 11 p.m., Friday and Saturday, 3 to 9 p.m. Sunday; brunch 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday; wheelchair accessible, all credit cards, plenty of mall parking
I’m a mom-and-pop kind of diner. Nothing makes me happier than stumbling onto a small out-of-the way eatery where little English is spoken and the only concept is “what grandma cooked.” So authentic, so soulful. So the opposite of the giant cookie-cutter chain operations that pepper the culinary landscape.
So I say this with a twinge of wonder: I truly enjoyed my meals at Del Frisco’s Grille in Huntington Station, the five-month-old contemporary-American restaurant in the Shops at Walt Whitman that used to be Legal Sea Foods. The place, one of 52 establishments operated by the Texas-based Del Frisco’s Restaurant Group, is oversized and proud of it. Where Legal had divided the space into discreet areas — two dining rooms and a separate bar — Del Frisco’s is one huge room that accommodates almost 200 diners plus another 80 at the bar with an open kitchen that runs the length of the back wall. You’d think this would all add up to cacophony, but while the joint indisputably jumps, it’s not so loud that conversation is a strain.
Corporate ownership means that every detail has been worked out, from the sleek, warm décor to the comfortable booths, each equipped with a coat hook, to the adorable little squeeze bottles of ketchup that come with the burgers. The menu is another work of intelligent design, drawing on the hottest trends and organized under headings such as “food to fight over,” “two-fisted sandwiches” and “take sides.”
We didn’t fight over them, but made quick work of the startlingly spicy Buffalo-style “lollipop” chicken wings with avocado ranch dressing. A cheesesteak-filled egg roll was that rare cross-cultural mash-up that not only sounded cute, but tasted good. And while many of the starters at Del Frisco’s evince that Guy Fieri style of unhinged complexity, the crabcake was subdued, mostly meat and napped with an accomplished Cajun-spiced lobster sauce. This was one I did not want to share.
The Grille salad was passable, but the rare sesame-crusted tuna deserved much better than its accompanying salad, a senseless assemblage of cold noodles, greens, nuts, avocado, tomato and mango. Del Frisco’s fine burgers are made with two patties, which allows for a more stable construction and easier consumption — also helped by the well-proportioned bun. I’d pick the sweet potato fries over the wan frites.
Among mains (“knife & forks”), the big winner was a genius take on beef stroganoff: a big slab of succulent, boneless short rib served with a side of pappardelle, everything finished with a drizzle of sour-cream and a frizzle of fried onions. Runner up was the smoked, double-cut pork chop, moistened with just the right amount of bourbon-apple glaze. The chop reclined on a mound of roughly smashed potatoes shot through with skins and chives. Don’t bother with the “brick” chicken, a boneless breast for the faint of heart.
Doneness is a problem here. My friend’s filet mignon, ordered rare, showed up well done; he sent it back, keeping the fries. A manager arrived within seconds with an abject apology and, within minutes, delivered a much nicer filet, perfectly cooked, with a second order of fries. Another night, salmon ordered medium-rare was raw in the center. No fool, I removed the excellent broccolini with lemon and Parmesan before the plate was whisked away and, sure enough, more broccolini arrived with the properly cooked salmon. Come dessert, the interior of our “molten” chocolate cake was baked to a dry crumb. Memo to corporate: Get your line cooks some instant-read thermometers.
Aside from the nonmolten chocolate cake, desserts were superb. Coconut cream pie was a cloud of tender pastry, light coconut custard and shards of white chocolate; the Nutella bread pudding had everything going for it: a Nutella-pudding base, coffee ice cream and caramel sauce.
The star of the desserts was unquestionably the lemon Doberge cake. This towering six-layer affair of pale sponge filled with lemon curd, frosted with lemon buttercream and enrobed in lemon fondant, stands as a stark rebuke to overthought, deconstructed desserts everywhere. Mom and pop should take note.