There were whispers. The Grape, the beloved Greenville bistro, had been maligned by people I trust, and so I had promised myself I would investigate. It’s true, it can happen: a venerable institution can disappoint, even one headed by Brian Luscher. Sometimes a steak frites is no longer what a steak frites used to be.
The dishes at The Grape are like old friends you check in on every once in a while. The house charcuterie board might feature house boursin (cream cheese mixed with herbs), a lusty chicken liver pâté, or a marvelous rabbit mortadella flecked with pistachios, the house style rustic and well-seasoned and calls for a glass of Bordeaux.
A pair of 4oz tournedos steaks were a magnificent carnivorous encounter, with a generous knob of garlic-herb butter and red wine demi-glace. The cut, from the tenderest part of the animal, is a pinnacle of tenderness, a luxury that two women at a neighboring table each indulged over a glass of wine. But the classic bistro idiom needs crispy fries, so golden and crunchy you can’t stop eating them. No fries should be as limp the pile we pushed around on the plate.
Other dishes also failed to tell a love story. Redfish was plated with a pretty, pale yellow corn puree and a salad of julienned zucchini and watermelon radish—the elements attractive, but nothing conspiring to make it pop. The skin was crispy, but not as much as it could be. A swordfish steak seasoned with blackening spices was dry despite a nice roasted tomato vinaigrette.
For dessert, a Gran Marnier tart with a globe of pistachio ice cream and raspberry coulis was a sweet blur whose flavors only made approximate sense on the palate. After the charcuterie and steak, the dishes lacked sharper definition and focus.
As far as bistro classics go, it is still a place for a carnivorous encounter with a tournedos. If I squint my eyes, my edited memory of the evening remains of the wine, the pâté, the tournedos, those kindlers of a warm, romantic bistro glow.