At Graffiti, the writing is on the plate.
Executive chef Steven Minson sparks the open kitchen at the expanded and improved "American grill," which has moved from its original location next door into the former site of Baang Cafe & Bar.
It's a stylized, contemporary dining room, turned into an already popular stage for Minson's big flavors and newly streamlined menu. Gone are the "snack bar" choices, which scored with the pretzel-roll hot dog and slipped with grilled pizza. The main-dish salads have been cut back, too.
But, more important, the quality has risen and the buzzing place can be a lot of fun.
Minson sends out a very satisfying butternut squash-and-apple soup, finished with a swirl of crème fraîche; and a light, flavorful onion soup that floats a brioche crouton under a lid of melted Gruyère cheese. Equally recommended: the barely bound crab cake, accompanied by a smoked-onion spin on sauce rémoulade and a tangy salad of frisée, shaved fennel and citrus. The roasted beet salad also is a tasty beginning, completed with mesclun, toasted walnuts, haricots verts, and goat cheese. Pan-seared yellowfin tuna tacos benefit from guacamole, jicama slaw and pico de gallo relish to lead the lighter repertoire. The sandwich selections include a diverting grilled-shrimp BLT, with jumbos enriching the combo of applewood bacon, avocado and tomato in multigrain bread; and the obligatory Black Angus burger. Shredded, mellow short rib on flatbread with caramelized onion, bacon, manchego cheese, roasted tomato and horseradish-spiked aioli, is a husky opener. Slowly braised Niman Ranch short rib enriches the main courses, with a horseradish crust, garlicky whipped potatoes and savory vegetable fricassee. The petite chicken meat loaf - generous, well seasoned, alongside sweet potatoes and cranberry compote. Conclude with apple crumble or creamy cheesecake.
The quinoa "risotto" is more like toasted grains with vegetables. BBQ scallops are overdone. Bland artichoke flatbread. Crème brûlée has a flip-top lid.
THE BOTTOM LINE