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Fine Dining Notebook: Sierra Grille

If you’re looking for a great atmosphere, décor that includes dark wood furniture, a fantastic ambiance with small votives on every table and even better food made from a variety of local ingredients, look no further than Noho. The Sierra Grille, at 41 Strong Ave. in Northampton, is by far one of the best restaurants in the city. There truly is something for everyone on the menu. When I ate here, I was with a group of my friends celebrating another friend’s birthday. It is one of her favorite spots as well, so it was an obvious choice. I should mention that all of these friends are also members of the professional modern dance company, Eclipse, and the dinner we enjoyed took place after a four hour dance rehearsal on a Saturday night, so we were a little bit hungry… enough said.

The great thing about the menu options at Sierra Grille is the fact that you are paying very (and I mean very) low prices for an incredibly high-quality product. One of the best ways to go is to start off with a sampling of any or all of their “Small Bites.” Each of these are $2 to $3, which means that you can sample five different items for just $10, the same price that it’d cost you to get one appetizer at other restaurants. We started with the sourdough loaf, which is baked especially for the Sierra Grille by The Old School Bakery in Northampton. The tangy and tender dough of the bread paired really well with another item from the “Small Bites” section, the whole roasted garlic cloves in olive oil, which were sweet and spread perfectly on the bread. Other items on this list include sweet and salty vegetable crisps, which are flash fried, paper-thin slices of beets, sweet potatoes and Yukon Golds as well as the olive and garlic tapenade and the spicy hummus. All of these are great ways to start off your meal, because, similar to Spanish tapas, they’re little bites of food that pack a big flavor punch and are great for sharing.

Although you could easily make an appetizer out of one or many of the items listed above, the Sierra Grille also has an appetizer section on the menu. But unlike most restaurants that serve food of this quality, they start at a very low price of $4 and end at a still very low price of $6. These choices range from Belgian fries and smoked chicken wings to an assorted cheese plate with fresh fruit and crackers and even shrimp with chocolate sauce, reminiscent of a classic mole. The girls and I tried to opt out of the appetizer, but the men at the table just had to get the fries. They are classic, twice-fried and come with homemade catsup, aioli and, for a dollar extra, the Sierra Grille’s infamous homemade duck gravy. The boys spent the extra dollar, the girls had to try “just one” and it was well worth it.

They also offer four types of paninis, ranging from $6 to $8 which include a duck confit panini with goat cheese, arugula, spinach, caramelized onions, and a balsamic reduction for $8, which is to die for. The duck is succulent and rich and it pairs wonderfully with the creamy goat cheese, the peppery bite from the arugula and the sweetness from the onions. They also have a chicken breast panini with gruyere cheese and whole grain mustard. And the paninis are so cheap that you can even order one of their two salads to round out the meal. The garden salad rings in at only $5, while the spinach salad costs $7, and you can choose from balsamic vinaigrette, lobster avocado vinaigrette, tahini ginger or smoked cheddar ranch.

One of the best things that the Sierra Grille has to offer is the way in which they have set up their entrée menu. We all know what it’s like to go to a snooty restaurant and want to order something on the menu, but are turned away from said item because it comes with a sauce that you don’t think you’ll be crazy about. Here, you will never have this problem. All entrées, which range from $10 to $18, come with your choice of grilled protein, sauce and two sides. So, if you’re a vegetarian, you can get the marinated grilled tempeh with grilled vegetable kabobs, royal basmati rice and a Thai hot basil coconut sauce all for $10. By the way, all of their vegetarian items are cooked on a separate grill. But, if you’re looking for a meal with some meat, fish or seafood, try one of these two: the tuna with grilled asparagus, roasted potatoes and the citrus salsa for $18 or the hanger steak with potatoes au gratin and the ale, caramelized onion and mushroom sauce for $14. I tried the tuna, which was cooked to perfection, seared perfectly on the outside and rare on the inside, with the sweet and citrusy salsa that made for the perfect counterpart. In a nutshell, you can choose from one of nine proteins, two of nine sides and one of eight sauces. This provides for a variety of options and allows you to really customize your meal so that it suits your dining personality to perfection.

The Sierra Grille is undoubtedly one of the best restaurants in all of Northampton. The fact that they offer a variety of choices (from upscale bar food to the truly decadent and gourmet) at incredible prices in a quiet atmosphere is something that is hard to find.

Alex Tillotson can be reached at atillots@student.umass.edu.

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