Coho Grill

American, Burgers, Seafood
$$$$ ($15-$24)
'

Editorial Review

There are few aspects of the description "neighborhood gathering place" that wouldn't apply to Columbia's Coho Grill.

First, it is in the middle of Harper's Choice Village, inside the clubhouse at the Hobbit's Glen Golf Club. There are no other businesses nearby except, of course, the golf pro shop.

The restaurant hosts Lions Club meetings, baby showers and soccer team celebrations. It's where old friends meet for a leisurely lunch, a business discussion or a family birthday celebration.

The main dining room, with high ceilings and large windows overlooking the first tee box, is homey. The dark-green carpet seemingly brings the outdoors inside. A high shelf stacked with books runs the perimeter of the room. Old schoolhouse-type light fixtures mounted on brass arcs illuminate booths that fill the middle of the dining room. There is an adjacent bar and, beyond that, a heated patio, both of which overlook the putting green and driving range. Tying it all together is a large reception room with a welcoming wood-burning fireplace.

Manager Ellie Ennis said that owner Chuck Sachs had long wanted to run a full-service restaurant when the space at Hobbit's Glen became available in 1991. The restaurant's name comes from the coho species of salmon, and salmon is a featured item.

The lunch menu focuses on entree-size salads and sandwiches, including several variations of hamburger. On two visits, hamburgers were the entree of choice for about half of the diners. In addition to the half-pound beef burger, Coho Grill offers bison burgers and turkey burgers. The beef version, served on a large kaiser roll with lettuce, tomato and cheddar cheese, is hand-formed, not too firmly packed, juicy and flavorful. The accompanying french fries are crisp on the outside and pillow-soft on the inside.

Salads are served in bowls the size of large dinner plates. One of the most popular is the grilled salmon, served atop mixed greens, slivers of red onion, cucumber slices and bits of carrot, with a thick balsamic vinaigrette served on the side. The salmon is well grilled, flaky and not at all dry, though it didn't have a lot of taste. The vinaigrette is a little too thick and doesn't have a sufficient punch of balsamic vinegar. But it's a filling lunch entree.

Coho Grill also serves a good rendition of a Philadelphia steak and cheese sandwich. The grilled steak slices are tender and juicy, the grilled onions add a pleasant taste, and it's all topped with melted provolone cheese on a yeasty roll.

During the winter months, dinner is the busiest time of day at the restaurant. Begin with a creamy bowl of crab soup, thick with lumps of crabmeat, or French onion soup, which has a beefy broth and nicely caramelized onions, but the melted provolone that tops the toasted croutons lacks the nutty flavor of the more traditional Gruyere cheese. However, the provolone is easier to eat, because it doesn't pull into long threads.

In addition to the printed menu, a half-dozen daily specials are posted on a blackboard at the entrance to the dining room. One item always on the specials board is jumbo lump crab cakes, the restaurant's most popular entree. The crab cakes, about three inches across, are mostly large lumps of crabmeat, with only a scant binding. They are served with roasted red potatoes and an assortment of yellow and green squash with bits of onion -- it looks pretty on the plate but doesn't contribute much flavor.

The same squash side dish comes with the pork tenderloin in a bourbon barbecue sauce. The pork is properly cooked, but the meat lacks flavor, and the sauce only accentuates that.

Other entrees are better, including the salmon specialties and the slow-roasted prime rib, available only on Friday and Saturday nights. Shrimp and scallops in a saffron sauce is another favorite.

On Wednesday nights, salmon entrees are reduced to $9.95.

Coho Grill offers more than a dozen wines by the glass and a well-chosen list of wines by the bottle, most of which are less than $35 (though there is a premium fee for some bottles on the weekend).

Desserts, nearly a dozen of them, are listed on a separate menu and include several chocolate selections, a couple of apple preparations and two types of banana desserts. There isn't much subtlety here: a big chocolate brownie topped with ice cream and lots of whipped cream; a large helping of not-too-sweet chocolate bread pudding served with ice cream and whipped cream; and sauteed bananas served with, you guessed it, ice cream. The dessert presentations are straightforward, but the tastes will win you over.

-- Nancy Lewis

Feb. 22, 2007