Ambitious and upscale 

But so are Gregory"s prices

But so are Gregory's prices

Everyone knows that, even at the best of times, opening a high-end, semi-formal restaurant is a risky proposition. To do so during a recession, when the nation is on the brink of a massive military engagement, is surely a different game altogether. Situated in a slightly out of the way location behind Wells flower shop on 86th Street, Gregory"s is one of the most ambitious and upscale restaurants to open in recent months.

Before getting to the nitty gritty, permit me to make a couple of observations. Just as major independent restaurants, such as Peter's, are scaling back on their prices in an attempt to retain their dwindling corporate clientele, or when new establishments are focusing on the under $20 entrÈe and under $10 appetizer (take Oakley's for example), Gregory's hits the ground running in precisely the opposite direction. With entrÈes in the mid $20s to low $30s, this establishment may have represented a great idea three years ago when people had bulging portfolios and plump wallets, but I have to question the logic today.

Modeling itself after one of the upmarket steakhouses, Gregory's is a lavishly-appointed joint, to be sure. You would never guess that this building once housed a rather tattered Prime Time Grille. The place has received a 100 percent makeover, and is certainly the better for it. As you enter, on the left, there's a very warm and clubby bar area, where you can order large drinks and recline in plush chesterfields or comfy armchairs until your table is ready. In addition, it's cigar friendly, if not thoroughly encouraging. The dining room, well-designed with semi-circular booths and comfortable chairs, allows plenty of space between tables, so you're not subjected to your neighbor's conversation, and vice versa. Even the bathrooms are stylish, with a seating area for the ladies.

So far, so good. But what of the food, you might ask. Well, let's just say that it's sound, and leave it there for the moment. There are many kinds of restaurant diners, but let's say, for the sake of argument, that there are only two: those who care about the food they eat and its value for money, and those who don't. If your idea of a great restaurant experience is limited to comfy chairs, big drinks, name brand wines and piano music, then Gregory's is certainly the place for you. It has a great deal going for it in this regard.

If, on the other hand, you feel as if you deserve something special when you order a $32 entrÈe, then you are likely to be disappointed. Take a $30 entrÈe, add a couple of ý la carte vegetables at $3 a pop (making for a $36 entrÈe), five jumbo shrimp for $13 and maybe a dessert for $7 and you're pretty soon up to $56 a head, and that's before drinks. For that kind of money, I don't think it's unreasonable to ask for something quite special. These are the prices that you pay at Naha, or Vong, or any one of countless upscale eateries in Chicago, where you pay to be dazzled by the brilliance and innovation of the chef, not to mention by the freshness and quality of the ingredients. These are restaurants where your $36 buys organic produce, free-range dairy and meat, artisan cheeses and exquisite breads. Now, I know you're saying to yourself, this isn't Chicago, so you can't hold a restaurant to the same standards. No, I say in reply, it's not Chicago, so how can you reasonably expect to charge as if it were?

As I mentioned earlier, the food at Gregory's is sound. Chef Dwight Simmons has a good understanding of fish, having learned his trade at Kona Jack's. A grouper dish tasted recently ($28) was a solid effort if not especially inspiring. Or consider the prime rib ($24). Add a couple of sides, and you're up to $30. The prime rib in question was, I was reliably informed, dry aged for several days. To judge from its bright pink color and spongy consistency, this meat had probably been removed from its plastic wrapper that very day, immediately prior to being thrown in the oven. Good dry aged meat usually has a deeper color with brownish edges. In addition, it doesn't generally gush juices when cut into.

A brace of quail ($32), stuffed with something disconcertingly akin to Uncle Ben's sage and rice dressing, was of a vaguely Martha Stewart casual entertaining quality, and did little to impress. The accompanying grilled vegetable risotto ($4) was crunchy and undercooked. This is unacceptable if you value your sleep and digestive system.

There are many people I know who have but a single criterion when it comes to dining out. They ask, "Could I do this better at home for considerably less?" In the case of Gregory's, there is nothing on the menu here that a competent home cook couldn't reasonably accomplish with the proper pots and pans and a couple of hours at the grocery store. Sorry to be a bit down on things, but that's how my party of two and I felt when we saw our bill.

As for the wine list, there is very little here under $30 worth drinking, with many bottles in the $60 to $80 range. With too many brand names and not enough independents, as well as a heavy emphasis on overpriced California offerings, this is not a list to be reckoned with. Surprisingly light on quality after-dinner drinks, Gregory's offers a few name-brand producers, but nothing to show that any thought has gone into the process. If you're going to take people's money, this is the place to do it. In this regard, as in many others, there's virtually limitless room for improvement.

Hear each Friday morning at 9 on WXNT-AM, 1430.

2160 W. 86th St. 337-9901
Tuesday-Saturday 5-11
Food : 2 1/2 stars
Atmosphere : 3 stars
Service : 2 1/2 stars

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