16th St. Bar & Grill Stays The Course With Updated Mediterranean Menu

Posted: May 14, 1993

About as many accents can be heard at the 16th Street Bar & Grill as there are ethnic items on the menu, which is a good way to sum up the kind of dining spot this is.

The Bar & Grill was born in the mid-1970s, just when the city's restaurant renaissance was moving into second gear. It took over quarters left vacant when Frog - arguably the flagship of the dining armada - moved around the corner to Locust Street.

Not too much has changed here, which is good. The concept of bistro dining is still in vogue. And what has changed - specialties keep getting updated - has been for the better.

The decor has a 1960s coffee-shop charm. You can dine in the bar area as well as in the front and rear dining rooms. Walls are a deep rose, with green church rails and stenciled borders that feature colorful artichokes, grapes and asparagus. Tables are topped with unassumming oilcloth covers.

Prices are moderate for the hearty Mediterranean fare that sweeps from Spain to the Middle East. But the Bar & Grill defies easy typecasting, as it often brings together a melange of ethnicity to form its own signature dish.

An example is the marriage of hummus, spicy chicken, onions, an olive- flavored sour cream, tomatoes and bean dip on flatbread that is billed as a Mediterranean fajita ($8.95).

The Bar & Grill does an excellent job of blending ingredients to give an old dish a new look and taste. Its Greek salad ($5.95) has the requisite brine-cured black olives, creamy feta and pita, but it introduces spinach and bittersweet radicchio as salad greens.

Soups always seem freshly made. The hearty minestrone ($2.95 and $3.95) has a rich-tasting tomato-y broth and is packed with bright slices of carrot, pasta, chewy chickpeas and herbs.

Warm pita bread accompanies the Greek combination appetizer platter ($6.95), which is a shareable item. This has long, pillar-like slices of feta, three plump grape leaves, some grainy hummus, olives and the mint- refreshing yogurt dip called tzatziki.

A favorite of mine is the tapas sampler ($6.95). Good chorizo sausage joins several tail-on shrimp, a pimento-flavored white bean salad, garlicky marinated mushrooms, batter-dipped fried artichoke hearts and a creamy dipping sauce with capers.

The lamb curry couscous ($7.95) is another example of the Bar & Grill bringing together a mix of flavors yet keeping each distinct. Creamy couscous, topped with slivers of scallion, sits aside a delicious combination of tender lamb pieces, red pepper and slices of green and yellow squash.

Even the roast chicken ($8.95) gets an extra touch, with caramelized onions and a garlic-parsley butter. For the vegetarian there's a white lasagne ($8.95) that is layered with mushrooms, tomatoes, spinach and both ricotta and mozzarella cheeses. This is bathed in a tomato-basil cream sauce.

Shellfish lovers will enjoy the clams tossed with linguine in a white herb sauce redolent with garlic ($7.95)

There are focaccio pizzas and sandwiches. The wine list is well-thought out and reasonably priced, including a number of wines by the glass. Service is courteous and helpful.

16TH STREET BAR & GRILL

264 S. 16th St., 215-735-3316

Open: 11:30 a.m. to 11 p.m. Mondays, to midnight Tuesdays through Fridays, noon to midnight Saturdays, 4:30 to 11 p.m. Sundays. Brunch 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sundays.

Price range: $5.95 to $16.95.

Credit cards: Visa, MasterCard and Diners

Nonsmoking section: Yes.

Facilities for handicapped: No.

Atmosphere: Charming bistro.

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