I love tapas restaurants. Not just for the exciting flavors of Spanish cuisine, but the small-plate concept, which allows you to taste several different bites without committing to a full entreé.
Sierra Grille in Northampton, one of our favorite Paradise City establishments, fully understands that their customers like to mix it up. They’ve structured their menu to include more than 20 varied “small bites” and appetizers, encouraging diners to make a meal of them. There’s just one problem: you’re going to want to order everything.
If a restaurant has an hour-long wait for a table at 8 p.m., in this economy, in January’s single-digit temperatures, it has to be good. But if you’re lucky enough to grab a seat at the bar, it’s a pleasant wait. Sierra is known for its stellar beer and wine offerings. Should you have a hard time choosing, you have the option of selecting ‘samples’: a small pour of beer or wine for $2 to $3. This fits perfectly with Sierra’s culture of experimentation and customization.
We were particularly impressed by a female bartender who made the rounds of the seated bar patrons, checking on drink orders and making everyone feel welcome while they waited to eat.
Once we got into a booth, we were daunted by the menu, even though we’ve eaten there several times. To add even more choice to the user experience, Sierra also offers a “protein and two sides” option. Diners can choose their meat (chicken breast, duck, steak, shrimp, tuna, pork, salmon or vegetarian tempeh) two sides (ranging from potatoes au gratin to grilled vegetables) and their choice of one sauce, anything from a grilled corn and tomatillo salsa to spicy peanut satay. Not sure if an ale sauce with caramelized onions and mushrooms pairs well with rare seared tuna and basmati rice? Waiters are at the ready to offer pairing suggestions – they know their stuff.
I immediately decided to make a meal of several small plates, which came in perfectly timed intervals. We started with a cheese plate, arranged with house-smoked cheddar, gruyère and chèvre, crackers and crostini and paired with sliced green apples, small red grapes and a bright twist of blood orange. It was almost too pretty to eat, but Rob made short work of the smoky cheddar, tossing in a Chappelle Show reference. “Good-ass cheese.”
Next came warm slices of fantastic fresh-baked sourdough, paired with whipped butter, extra-virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar, and a grilled tuna taco, a crisp flour tortilla topped with seared ahi tuna, pico de gallo and a light remoulade. The taco was both hearty and refreshing.
Another round brought the ‘richer’ plates: mussels simmered in a creamy Thai coconut curry sauce; puff-pastry wrapped ‘empanadillas’ stuffed with sun-dried tomatoes, artichokes, goat cheese, bacon, sausage and spinach; and Belgian frites, paired with duck gravy, homemade ketchup and aioli dipping sauces.
The mussels were large and plump and soaked up the decadent sauce. The veggie empanadilla popped with flavor, thanks to the bright tomatoes and tangy goat cheese. And had we not overloaded our palates with rich tastes, the Belgian frites would have been downright addictive, especially with the aioli. The duck gravy “tasted like Thanksgiving,” Rob said.
As if we didn’t have enough food, Rob chose the ‘protein and sides’ menu option, pairing medium-rare grilled ribeye steak with a citrus-infused barbecue sauce, grilled asparagus and macaroni and cheese. The steak was juicy and harmonized nicely with the fruity sauce. The asparagus was done to perfection and the macaroni was perfect starchy comfort, but could have used a sharper cheese for the sauce.
Our waiter: “You guys are going to need a nap after all this food.” Yup.
We had no room for dessert, but looked anyway. All of the sweets were priced at $3 and included beignets, sorbet and gelato trios, fruit crisp, a chocolate almond tart and a creme brulee made with Allagash White. next time…
Sierra Grille is an absolute treat for foodies. Especially if you’re the type to vacillate between entree choices because you just want everything. Thanks to their menu structure and accommodating spirit, you can sample as much as you want.
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Sierra Grille, 41 Strong Ave., Northampton, MA 01060. (413) 584-1150, www.sierragrille.net