The Columbus Dispatch Restaurant Review, 2002.
Once part of the 55 Restaurant Group, Polaris Grill was bought by two former 55 managers and features several signature dishes from the 55 group’s heyday, when it was the dominant restaurant operation in town.
And as you work your way through some of those dishes and other menu items, you find yourself thinking that the organization might still be around if it had paid the same kind of attention that’s being paid here.
Attention to food, that is. Start with the FiftyFive House Salad, which still comes in small ($3.95 for a very large serving) and large ($5.95, larger yet). The salad is vastly better. Instead of iceberg, leaf and designer lettuces are used, the bacon tastes better, the blue cheese is finer and the dressing has interest.
At Polaris Grill, Maryland crab cakes cost $9.95 a pair as an appetizer or $16.95 for three as a dinner entree. These taste as if they’re all crab, with no surimi. They’re fried to a nice crusty brown and served with a slightly spicy mustard sauce and a dab of tomato chutney.
Go off-menu for the potato- crusted red snapper ($19.95). There’s a nicely colored, nicely crusted exterior of grated potato. Inside, it’s moist and properly cooked.
This special comes with a light sauce of pureed red peppers — both sweet and hot. It’s moderately spicy and a good contrast to the buttery richness of the crust.
The pecan-crusted sea bass ($19.95) began life at Polaris Grill as a special and is now part of the regular menu. As with the snapper, the crusting delivers: slightly caramelized pecan flavors, which despite being sauteed so dark, still allow the two filets to stay moist and fresh-tasting. The sauce is a lemony butter concoction that’s not too rich.
Chicken breasts also get a crusted treatment ($13.95) with a parmesan based coating. Three half-breasts are sauteed crisply. There’s also a bit of butter-and- wine sauce on the plate, along with the regular sides.
Most entrees come with the same sides: overworked mashed potatoes and some vegetables, most recently, decent frozen sugar snap peas.
I couldn’t find any hickory smoking in the pork chops ($16.95); but the timbale of grits, cheese and egg in the center of the plate had an attractive smoked flavor that added to the plain taste of salt and pepper on the chops. A spicy green-tomato chutney and aromatically seasoned applesauce that tastes homemade add distinction.
Several pizzas are offered. The Margherita ($9.95) is attractively topped with slices of Roma tomatoes, the right amount of cheese and a few slivers of basil.
In the pasta department, a relatively light and well-conceived option combines properly cooked linguini with sauteed pieces of boneless chicken, spinach, several halved Roma tomatoes glazed with parmesan, a very few pine nuts, and an olive oil-and-butter sauce reduced with white wine. A little more parmesan is on top.
Currently, Polaris Grill’s best dessert is an off-menu special ($5.95) made around a centerpiece of miniature ladyfingers formed (like a miniature Stonehenge) around a berry mousse topped with crushed raspberries. Surrounding it are two small scoops of raspberry sorbet, some fresh, whole blackberries, and a couple of dabs of whipped cream. This colorfully attractive dish is on a very light custard cream.
The regular list has an unusual pineapple upside-down “cake” ($4.95) that’s made in a popover mold instead of a frying pan. A sponge cake is cooked over the pineapple slice, and it comes out nicely sweet. It would be easier to enjoy if the whole dish weren’t assaulted with powdered cinnamon.
The wine list, alas, inherits 55’s extremely high markups. Its only Alsatian entry is very good: the 1999 Hugel Pinot Blanc ($27), a dry white with typical Alsatian balance and versatility.
A good candidate from the reds is a nicely aged 1997 Napa Ridge Monterey Pinot Noir ($28) whose aroma shows a bit of Burgundian character along with sweet oak. The red-wine glasses are superb; the white ones, pedestrian.