Does Stillwater run deep?

By Joe Torok

Okemos eatery is surf and turf from top to bottom

The Stillwater Grill in Okemos feels a bit like a hotel ballroom on first blush, classy and inviting but not terribly intimate.

A small collection of cylindrical amber fixtures hang at one end of the dining room, bathing the space in an orange-hued light that highlights extensive woodwork, sage green accents and tables so clean they shine. Along the ceiling, long brass pipes fan out from the greeter station, echoing the sunburst logo found on Stillwater’s signage and branded in its advertising.

Stillwater’s dinner menu is surf and turf from top to bottom, offering everything from prime rib and chicken tenders to tilapia and coconut shrimp.

The lobster bisque, a generous serving accompanied by cellophane-wrapped soda crackers, came with our entrée. There seemed to be a strong cheddar cheese influence in the soup, and that flavor took over, muting out the flavor of the lobster.

Served punctually along with the bisque was the panko-encrusted goat cheese ($11). Fried perfectly, three crunchy, flaky, golden brown globes filled with creamy cheese were drizzled with a sweet sauce that had a bit of a kick: raspberry with a touch of cayenne, according to our server. It’s a nice idea and not entirely without risk, which we appreciated, but none of the flavors seemed to pop like we imagined; my companion especially craved a stronger sweetness to contrast the tang of the cheese, and while the cayenne sounds interesting in theory, it held notes of wasabi, which, for us, confused the flavors.

For our entrée, we decided to share a combo platter that offered a selection of three meats ($32) and a side. We ordered the roasted vegetables for an extra couple of dollars, and it was nice to have a medley of mushrooms, peppers, squashes and artichoke heart, certainly better than the customary broccoli florets or baked potato offered by most restaurants. The subtle vinegar dressing on the vegetables, though, just didn’t bring the veggies together like a nice, semi-sweet balsamic might have done.

Of the three proteins, the prime rib stood out. A thick cut of juicy meat prepared medium rare, the boneless beef was served with au jus. If you’re looking for tasty cut of red meat, this is a dish that won’t disappoint, although the au jus seemed heavy on the bouillon.

We were most disappointed with the wasabi lime tuna. Our sushi-grade tuna steak was pan seared well, but it might have been cooked a little too close to the prime rib because that’s what it tasted like. We expected the meat to be flakier, with a more delicate, silky texture, but it came out feeling like a beef steak in that department, too. The wasabi lime sauce added a bright burst of color and touch of acidity, but it had less spice than the sauce on the goat cheese. The Cajun tenderloin tips landed somewhere in between the other two selections, probably closer to the tuna. The menu proudly proclaims the skewer of tenderloin tips as a guest favorite; we weren’t as excited as others, apparently. Like our other selections, the tips were cooked exactly as we requested, but, on reflection, the flavors just didn’t inspire the use of an exclamation point. Oregano was there in the background, and there was plenty of sweetness in the sauce, but the heat we expected from peppers was missing or masked — along with any other flavors — by the sauce.

The evening ended pleasantly with a slice of chocolate cake. Dense and layered with ganache, it had the texture of fudge and satisfied my companion’s chocolate craving. Rich and semisweet, the generous slice is an indulgence and more than enough for two. It would have been even better with a real cup of coffee — I was finished with the coffee-flavored tea I was served after a couple of sips.

Overall, Stillwater seems to try hard to feel like a high-end neighborhood restaurant, yet it largely comes off as corporate, and that’s not an entirely bad experience. My sense is that if I went to eat there next week or month or year, I’d likely have a near-identical experience, from the clean, bright atmosphere to the clockwork service to the mildly satisfying food. Customers like that. Many of us look for dining experiences we can rely on, nights out when we know we won’t be sending food back to the kitchen and the water will always be topped off in a timely manner.

I’m just not sure, though, how often I’ll crave such a middlebrow dining experience. If I do, there’s stiff competition for that kind of dining dollar in this town.

Stillwater Grill

3544 Meridian Crossing Dr., Okemos

11 a.m.-10 p.m. Monday-Friday; 3 p.m.-10 p.m. Saturday; 3 p.m.-9 p.m. Sunday

(517) 349-1500

FB, WB, OM, P, $$$