There are Christmas carols on the sound system at Gallery Grille, and that fits perfectly with the restaurant's family atmosphere. This charming newcomer to Northridge is the sort of place where you can dine with the kids in genteel comfort without spending a fortune.
As you might guess from the name, the walls are hung with paintings--I counted around two dozen--by local artists. All are for sale, as are the hand-painted flower vases on your table.
Other cozy appointments include the trompe l'oeil "brick" room dividers, the wood-paneled wall that separates the dining room from the kitchen, and flowered curtains.
The food is solid and comforting, best when the kitchen doesn't overreach. The menu gets a bit eclectic in the appetizer section, then settles down to a few familiar pastas, salads and plain American entrees: roast chicken, New York steak, several nice cuts of fish.
In the eclectic appetizer department, what the menu calls portabello pizza is really a sort of stuffed mushroom creation. From the menu description, I was expecting one huge portabello mushroom topped like a vegetarian pizza: mozzarella and Parmesan, roasted garlic, Roma tomatoes, chopped artichoke hearts, olives and bell peppers. Instead, it was five or six pieces of portabello cut down to the size of regular mushroom caps. They were quite good. Incidentally, they're even better when you order them with rock shrimp for two bucks extra.
The pot stickers--stuffed with chicken and available either sauteed or steamed--are only partially successful. We ordered the steamed variety and they arrived rather limp, though they were nearly rescued by a nice roasted sesame dipping sauce.
One more possibility is the fried lobster and crab cakes, served in a pink sauce. They're nicely crunchy, though they don't have much ocean flavor, so the idea of serving them with a strong red pepper coulis is a bit perverse.
The usual Oriental chicken salad isn't exactly Asian to begin with, and Gallery Grille's version tastes purely occidental. It's a huge pile of greens tossed with marinated grilled chicken, carrots, papaya, noodle crisps and sesame seeds. It would have at least a vaguely Asian flavor if the sweet-and-sour dressing had more sesame oil.
But you won't go wrong with the traditional Caesar salad. It's nothing fancy, just romaine leaves and home-baked garlic croutons in a nice, pungent Caesar dressing.
Pastas can be ordered as entrees, but it's worth noting that you automatically get a nice-size portion of capellini alla checca with any non-pasta entree. Anyway, one of the pastas is nicely cooked rigatoni with portabello mushrooms, sun-dried tomatoes, spinach, fresh basil and goat cheese.
Even better is the mixed ravioli plate: shrimp, asparagus and asiago cheese fillings, all in a light, creamy shrimp sauce.
The best entree is the oven-roasted half chicken, because the bird, basted with extra-virgin olive oil, garlic and herbs, comes to the table crisp and juicy. And one evening there was a special of broiled whitefish with a lemon caper butter sauce, which was just about perfect with its side of lumpy mashed potatoes with the skins.
But I can't say as much about the regular menu's swordfish--at $16.95, the priciest item here. It was a stingy serving; couldn't have been more than 5 ounces. When you order Atlantic salmon, you get a heftier serving, but it's flavorless. And when I ordered it, the crisp baby spinach leaves that were supposed to be underneath the fish were conspicuously absent.
In the glass case next to the kitchen, you can see two bundt cakes, made for the restaurant by a local baker working out of her home. Both are worth a shout. One is a moist lemon poppy-seed cake, the other a rich chocolate cake with added chocolate chips. They are so good in fact, they could easily do without the fancy strawberry-swirled creme Anglaise underneath them.
And that's Gallery Grille in a nutshell, simple fare in a nice atmosphere, best when there isn't too much brass--just like Christmas carols.
* WHAT: Gallery Grille.
* WHERE: 9725 Reseda Blvd., Northridge.
* WHEN: 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Monday-Saturday, 10 a.m.-10 p.m. Sunday.
*HOW MUCH: Dinner for two, $28-$45. Suggested dishes: portabello pizza, $6.95; traditional Caesar salad, $5.95; roasted half chicken, $9.75; bundt cake servings, $3.75.
* FYI: Beer and wine only. Parking lot. MasterCard and Visa accepted.
* CALL: (818) 998-GRILL.