The Las Olas dining scene has had its ups and downs, but one address in particular has been a revolving door: 401 E. Las Olas Blvd. In less than 10 years, the lavish space at the Las Olas City Centre has been home to five restaurants, including Rare and Bova Prime (part of Ponzi schemer Scott Rothstein’s empire). A sixth venture, Grille 401, opened Oct. 15.
New owners Jeffrey Anderson and Kevin Blair of the Rainmaker Group (Brimstone Woodfire Grill, Pembroke Pines; Piñon Grill, Boca Raton) have toned down the glamour with comfy booths, lots of wood, slate walls and colorful paintings by local artist Marcia Moore.
That’s not to say all the drama is gone. There’s an illuminated bar, wine bottles framed in glowing blue cases and 20-foot ceilings. The upstairs loft has been converted to a more diner-friendly space, and there’s a small patio.
Besides the more approachable setting, Grille aims to win over the tough downtown dining crowd with lunch service and a diverse, more moderately priced menu (though steaks and seafood are pretty expensive). There’s a limited sushi list (primarily Americanized rolls like a tempura shrimp with cream cheese) as well as seafood, pasta and chops. And service is ultra accommodating.
We started out strong with a bowl of butternut squash soup as comforting as a cuddly blanket on a chilly day. The fresh puréed squash is lightened with house-made chicken stock, seasoned with thyme and garlic and finished with a Hennessy cream sauce and chopped chives.
Our favorite items were appetizers and sides. A starter of crispy crab fritters brings three clusters that look like tiny bird’s nests — a flavorful mixture of jumbo lump crab, shrimp and risotto rolled in shredded phyllo dough and fried. It’s served with a delicate lobster ginger sauce garnished with corn relish.
Another hit: A salad of sliced roasted beets and field greens with a scattering of spiced pecans and a toasted patty of goat cheese — a wonderful mix of textures — in a light herb vinaigrette dressing. Kobe beef sliders, poke-style tuna tartare and grilled artichokes help round out the appetizer list.
Entrees also cover a lot of ground — perhaps too much. We liked the curry snapper fillet topped with rock shrimp and a decent sauce, but found the bourbon sauce served with brined pork chops overpowering.
An 8-ounce filet mignon was buttery tender, but nothing outstanding for $34. Pecan-crusted trout from Idaho is a good bet, nicely cooked and reasonably priced at $24, finished with a currant citrus chardonnay sauce. Like the snapper, it’s served with sautéed spinach.
Most dishes come with at least one side, but accompaniments worth ordering include jalapeño-tweaked mac and cheese and peanut-ginger coleslaw.
Brioche bread pudding with raspberry-blackberry compote, lots of shaved chocolate and whipped cream is a terrific dessert.
At lunch, there’s a mixed bag of lighter, cheaper specials. A well-seasoned herbed chicken was overcooked and a basil pasta dish was bland, but we loved the Parmesan potato cake.
Grille 401 is a work in progress, but there are things to like here. It remains to be seen whether it can stand out in a challenging location on a competitive street.