In Buffalo, unlike most cities, a new restaurant downtown on Main Street needs help drawing attention. When the Archer Grilled Meats and Aquatics opened in December, the menu helped. It promised elk, antelope and other exotic game sure to catch the eyes of adventurous carnivores scanning the menu. ¶ A sign on the door wouldn’t hurt. We found our way inside, past a “For Lease” sign, an empty lobby and an unstaffed reception desk. The first impression was an ambitious place that hadn’t quite nailed down the details. Our meal suggested the same. ¶ New owners Joshua and Gladys Archer have taken over the two-story space formerly occupied by the City Grill, a block east of the HSBC Center. We found street parking, even though Jay Z was in town.
We were greeted and led to a second story overlooking the first floor, which has a bar and tables with views into the semi-open kitchen. It’s a big-city space with jazz in the background, bow-and-arrow artwork, sturdy chairs and cloth napkins. The second floor has an unused bar and wine cases.
The server introduced herself and put a card bearing her name on a stand on the table. I’ve never seen that before. It was useful later, when we hailed her as she valiantly served tables on both floors. Despite that, she was personable and provided useful wine advice.
Standards like spinach and artichoke dip ($9), crab cakes ($12) and lobster bisque ($9) abound, but the menu’s wild side is unusual. Game is found through the appetizers and entrees, including an antelope quesadilla ($15), venison sausage ($14) and entrees such as bison strip steak ($33) and rack of boar ($35).
A fresh little loaf of warm bread studded with sunflower seeds arrived. We tore it up and enjoyed pieces dabbed with cinnamon butter.
The appetizers were hit-and-miss. The Moroccan chickpea salad ($12) was terrific, exotically spiced vinaigrette over chickpeas tossed with sun-dried tomatoes and diced feta, all over briefly grilled romaine leaves.
The antelope quesadilla was stuffed with plentiful, superbly tender meat, like beef but different. Antelope tastes like a cow that just got lost in the woods. Our guests, not exactly exotica fans, enjoyed it thoroughly, and it was our favorite dish of the night.
The cheese sauce in the Welsh rarebit appetizer ($8) had broken, fat pooling along the edges. We stirred it up again but the fat made the sauce slip off on the freshly baked house-made pretzel sticks. Which was a shame, because those pretzels were lovely.
Lobster bisque was thin, more brothy than creamy, and contained the merest suggestion of lobster meat. It did taste like lobster, though.
The entrees arrived with our appetizer plates still on the table. Lisa’s Faroe Island salmon with brie and balsamic raspberries ($16) had been deftly grilled then topped with rich cheese and tangy fruit sauce. It was tender and flaky, with a smokiness amplified by the Indian-spiced basmati pilaf beneath it.
Cat’s almond-crusted walleye filet ($28) was overcooked and dry, trapped in a casing that had gone tough, not crunchy. “That fish died twice,” said Cat, poking unhappily at overcooked wild rice. Our server promptly removed it from our bill.
A “frenched rack of elk” was featured in the $75 mixed grill for two, along with beef sirloin, stuffed quail, shrimp, whipped potatoes and seasonal vegetables.
The handsome platter arrived artfully arranged around a mountain of whipped potatoes sporting a sprig of rosemary with sliced meats, a quail stuffed with feta and spinach, frizzle-fried onions, asparagus and a mixture of diced squash, bell pepper, red onion and eggplant.
So which was the elk? Neither had bones, as frenched racks conspicuously do. We asked our server, who ventured that they were boar and antelope. So we weren’t the only ones confused. Whatever the species, the grilled meats were delicious. One obviously huskier in flavor, with a liverish note I liked.
The seared shrimp were enjoyable and I finished off the stuffed quail when others found the combination of dark meat and feta cheese too rich. Ate all the onion rings, too. Too bad the potatoes were gluey and the vegetable dice undercooked. I’m fine with mostly raw zucchini and summer squash, but I draw the line at eggplant.
Pasta puttanesca ($16), ordered as a vegetarian nod, was a pleasant combination of tomatoes, artichokes, onions, capers and salty olives tossed with cavatappi, corkscrew pasta.
At dessert, a huge serving of cheesecake with raspberry sauce ($7) was grainy filling under loads of juicy fruit. The cheesecake and mandarin orange carrot cake ($7) didn’t seem particularly fresh. The Italian rum cake ($7) was a delightful slice of fluffy, boozy richness.
Pineapple Fosters ($9) was a good idea, featuring fresh pineapple sautéed in butter and sugar, flambeed with dark rum for a caramel finish and topped with ice cream. The smaller pieces were tender and delicious, the bigger pineapple hunks undercooked and woody.
The Archer has brought game to downtown Buffalo, but it has to sharpen up its fine dining chops if it wants to be king of the jungle.
The Archer: 6
Downtown touches adorn game-centered menu, but uneven cooking suggests aim can improve.
WHERE: 268 Main St. (768-4661, www.thearcherbuffalo.com)
HOURS: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Friday; 5 to 10 p.m. Saturday; closed Sunday.
PRICE RANGE: Appetizers, $7-$14; salads, burgers and wings, $12-$18; entrees, $16-$75.
WHEELCHAIR ACCESS: Yes.