The way The James hides in a cozy concrete corner downtown epitomizes the enveloping homeyness I associate with Williamsport. The Pine Street facade is unassuming, and any
evidence that The James is inside the Holiday Inn is delightfully subtle.
The atmosphere is lovely—low amber lighting and sturdy, cherry-stained tables are arranged in an open space in the main area of the restaurant. Even so, the feeling is intimate.
The menu comes in two pieces. The main page has soup, small plates, toasts, pasta, large plates. The smaller page has sushi: cut rolls, hand rolls, sashimi, and salad. Perhaps providing two separate menus is meant to explain the lack of continuity in the menu since, aside from three of the large plates (Asian Lacquered Ahi, Miso and Mirin Glazed Salmon, Pancetta Wrapped Hamachi) that invoke Japanese flavors, the sushi feels out of place.
The offerings are a mix-up of Japanese fusion; Italian fusion with a preponderance of tomato, mozzarella, and pasta; and some American superstars like a Bacon Cheeseburger, Cowboy Steak, and Cobb Salad. The small plates include Roasted Crab Dip, Panzanella, and Jumbo Hot Wings.
After our server took the order, we were presented with a plate of bread and seasoned oil. The oil itself was nice, but heavy with dried oregano, sage, crushed red pepper, and basil. It was odd to me that the herbs were just plopped into the oil as opposed to being infused by heating, then strained and garnished. The bread was not extraordinary. It was a tad stale around the edges and lacked salt. Our bread course foreshadowed the rest of our meal, which fell a notch below expectation.
I ordered the Chicken Agnolotti from the pasta section. The description read, “caper and Limoncello cream sauce”. What arrived were four large agnolotti swimming in cream sauce with capers, oddly sans garnish. The capers were briny and sharp in just the right way, but the sauce lacked its purported Limoncello component. The agnolotti were filled with plain, shredded chicken which was not seasoned. The pasta was made in-house but lacked the fresh and tender lightness I expected. The dish, taken as a whole, was boring.
My date ordered the Chipped Tenderloin Toast, which consisted of sautéed beef chunks nestled in a long French roll and a sauce that invoked gravy via cheese. The beef had a nutty, browned flavor, but the cheese-gravy was uninspired. The roll was nice: the crust crisp and the dough chewy, but the real treat of this plate was the eggplant fries. These were strips of eggplant, battered and deep-fried and served with ketchup, which I found to be unnecessary. The delicate tang of the eggplant was not overcome by the batter or by old frying oil. They were perfectly crisp. I liked them so much I opted not to finish my dinner and had a side order of the fries (which were surprisingly inexpensive at $1.50).
While the fare was moderately priced, in the $9 to $24 range with a side salad costing $3, I found the website’s claim of “fine dining in a casual atmosphere” to be a bit off. The food we sampled was satisfactory but not exemplary, certainly not on par with other fine dining. One does not have to dress or make reservations.
Fortunately, there is more to a dining experience than the food. Our server was pleasant and quick and our food was served extra-hot. We both ordered the Brown Ale, which was lovely. The restaurant was comfortable and pretty; the luminaries and hanging lights were shaded with natural pulp paper. The dinnerware, though incongruous with some of the atmospheric elements, were these beautiful, heavy, white, elongated rectangular vessels. The flatware had a nice heft and squared edges that matched nicely with the plates.
While some restaurant reviewers award stars, I will use capers. Out of a five-caper system, I will use the average from three categories. For Service, I give 4 capers for the superb speed and food temperature. For atmosphere, I give 3.5 capers, owing to the paradoxical elements but general comfort and prettiness. For the food, there can only be 2.5 capers. Overall, then, I award The James 3-1/3 capers.