Emilio's, located inside the Grove Hotel, is bright and open, with the white-linen, fresh-flower formality of a hotel restaurant. Baggage carts linger near the host stand and classical music echoes off the high, open ceilings. Across the way at the hotel bar, businessmen talk excitedly with the remnants of several martinis scattered around their tables. When I visited Emilio's one Wednesday evening—sans reservations and dressed casually in jeans—I had no problem scoring a booth for three.
For an appetizer, we unanimously agreed on the Tuna Tataki ($11) served in a delicious, spicy soy sauce. The Grove's sushi bar, we learned, has been open for six years and serves the bar, restaurant and hotel every Tuesday through Friday for dinner. The ahi was, by far, the starlet of our meal—fresh, spicy and tabloid-worthy. As a bit of an Asian sauce connoisseur, I was delighted when our server offered to retrieve a hand-penned recipe for me.
After finishing our appetizer, we were ready to tackle the Trapper-Keeper-sized wine menu. At a whopping 20 pages, Emilio's wine list has most of the standard high-end fare with a notably New World focus: California, Oregon, Washington, New Zealand, Australia and South America. After sifting through some nice Old World picks from France and Italy, my wine-loving dining companion decided on a Chilean blend: the 2000 Montes Alpha "M" from the Colchagua Valley ($112). After asking for a decanter, we were taken aback when the wine steward poured the entire bottle first through a metal filter and then into the bulbous container. Though the filter might've helped strain out some sediment, it was an awkward and tedious process that could've been avoided had the wine steward been more schooled in decanting.
Emilio's spring menu was much smaller than the wine list. One eye-catching appetizer was the Dungeness crab cakes with curried hearts of palm, poppadom and blood orange gastrique. I decided on the jumbo shrimp and sea scallops ($19), which came atop a bed of oyster mushrooms and confetti orzo. But the party was over. The orzo was a bland mound in the bottom of my dish and hardly a shellfish was found. Though the few grilled shrimp were indeed "jumbo," they didn't make up for the tiny, overcooked sea scallops and generally underwhelming flavor of the dish.
Luckily, my dining companions fared better than I did. One selected the night's special: grilled salmon with an avocado creme freche ($18). The salmon was tender, yet slightly crisp on the outside and served with a side of asparagus wrapped in a carved cucumber-bund. The bed of Spanish rice and sapote complemented the avocado sauce perfectly and lent the dish a complex texture with a hint of sweetness. My other companion ordered the New York Steak ($22), which was served with a savory peppercorn sauce, enormous Guinness-battered onion rings, and delicious Stilton mashed potatoes. The steak was cooked just as he asked and came out flavorful and tender. It was, by far, the best value dish of the night and, like the others, went amazingly with the complex, rich berry flavor of the Montes.
Though the desert menu looked tempting, we opted to end our meal with some great conversation and the last sips of our wine. We all agreed that our experience at Emilio's was generally pleasant. But for my next visit, I'll probably skip the seasonal menu and head straight for the sushi. Heck, I'll probably head straight for the bar, order a bottle of the much more reasonably priced 2005 Perrin Cotes du Rhone Reserve ($17) and listen to the pianist play versions of Jimmy Eat World and the Gin Blossoms.
—Tara Morgan likes to drive around this town and let the cops chase her around.