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Grafiti Grille

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When opened back in 1995, it seemed more like a restaurant that we'd find in the Fan than in the heart of the West End. Five years later, the graffiti on the walls inside seem to have gotten more sophisticated; the slightly wacky decor still looks cutting-edge, but the Grafiti seems to have found its role as a neighborhood restaurant. A changing menu has been a fixture of the restaurant, and it still changes about every five weeks. Of course, there are some constants — the duck nachos are still there for starters — but the menu is tamer now, less innovative. In the past, I've had some wonderfully inventive meals with a buffalo steak, duck and rabbit. Those duck nachos with mango salsa ($6.95) are a delightful departure from the usual Tex-Mex nachos and are wonderful for sharing over a drink or aperitif. I would like a bit more fire in the salsa, but its sweetness is seductive — and who ever thought duck would end up on a tortilla chip? The starters ($3.50-$7.95) at Grafiti are almost always imaginative, and I've rarely been disappointed except by an occasional soup du jour ($3.50) (this time an uninspired cream of mushroom-spinach) or a creative pairing of elements that simply doesn't work. The entree salads ($9.95-$10.95) are usually inventive and make a satisfying meal. Entrees ($12.95-$27.95) will almost always include the Grafiti veal meatloaf with mushroom gravy and the vegetarian special (dubbed "Harold's"), which changes content but not its name. You'll almost always find a couple of fish and shellfish preparations, something with chicken and two or three meat dishes as well as a few daily specials. Pepper-coated tuna with a drizzle of red curry and a watercress vinaigrette was spicy hot, but ubiquitous mashed potatoes neutralized the fire. The beef at Grafiti is very good, and I succumbed to a daily special of a filet with oysters topped with a béarnaise sauce ($27.95). The filet was superb but the two oysters added little but price, and the tricky sauce (or the cook) failed completely. The brash innovations of the Grafiti kitchen, the artful presentations, the exuberant energy that characterized the place, the solicitous host-owner-sometimes-chef haven't disappeared. The once-youthful Grafiti has mellowed with age and perhaps found its niche as a superb neighborhood bistro.

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