My favorite restaurant in New England, hands down. Combines the perfect amount of newfangled cooking trends and experimentation with comfort food flavors in a casual and friendly atmosphere. This is the only local restaurant that is attempting to be in the same class as places like Alinea and French Laundry, and it helps that the chef, Rob Evans, used to work with Thomas Keller. As far as I’m concerned, Evans has already surpassed his former mentor, creating an establishment that serves high concept but totally accessible food in an environment that feels like your local bistro.  It’s (almost) priced that way as well. This is not the kind of place that you only go to on your birthday or anniversary. One look at their menus will reveal that, with all dishes under $25, you could easily spend  a lot more and eat a lot worse at any number of Boston restaurants. The variety of menu structures can also accommodate an assortment of appetites. From the traditional appetizer-entree folk, to the somewhat more adventurous who might like the nightly 6 course blind tasting, to the food frenzied who could take the necessary steps of reserving the 15 course Chef’s Menu well ahead of time and structure their vacations around availability. We, surprise surprise, fall into the latter category. A phone call 6 weeks before our visit got us a 6:30 table on a Saturday night for the Chef’s Menu. We were informed that it is typically not offered on Saturdays (I suppose because that’s the busiest night), but that the chef was willing to make an exception (Sidenote: Portland restaurants seem to have an annoying habit of not staffing a reservationist such that when you call to make a reservation you leave a message and wait a day to hear back. Come on, Portland. Shit.) One of the other perks to ordering this menu is that because it’s not highlighted on the website, there’s a one line note at the bottom of the blind tasting menu page, you will elicit a staggering amount of food envy, and since advance reservations are required, that warm self-satisfied feeling will last all meal as other stare on helplessly. The menu goes for $120 a head with $50 for wine pairings. Here’s what we had:

puffed lobster

puffed lobster

The waiter described this as lobster mixed with tapioca, frozen, then fried. Had the consistency of a rice cracker but with a potent lobster flavor.

fried pemaquid oyster, horseradish sauce

fried pemaquid oyster, horseradish sauce

pemaquid oyster, cocktail orb

pemaquid oyster, cocktail orb

We each had a different oyster preparation. Though these weren’t the best bites of the night, they exemplify the way Hugo’s takes classic flavor combo’s and dresses them up. Simultaneously comforting and cutting edge.

romaine hearts, white anchovy, bottarga, caesar dressing

romaine hearts, white anchovy, bottarga, caesar dressing

atlantic fluke crudo, petite panzanella, lemon olive oil, aleppo pepper

atlantic fluke crudo, petite panzanella, lemon olive oil, aleppo pepper

For the next course Liz had a deconstructed Caesar (she loved it -we had a similar dish our first time at Hugo’s) and mine was a wonderfully fresh piece of raw fluke over a savory  and rich panzanella.

smoked trout roe, potato cone

smoked trout roe, potato cone

smoked char jerky ala minute

smoked char jerky ala minute

Liz won out for the next course. I had a very nice smoked trout roe in a potato cone, with some kind of cream hidden in the cone (very similar to the amuse bouche at the French Laundry and Per Se) but Liz was presented with a smoking glass jar set in a cube of ice, containing a piece of smoked char. The waiter explained the technical merits of smoking the char within ice but I cant remember any of it. I’m just a sucker for smoke billowing off a plate, and it tasted great. Brought me back to the smoked fish we had in the Netherlands.

matsutake mushroom "noodles", matsutake consomme, autumn aroma

matsutake mushroom "noodles", matsutake consomme, autumn aroma

This dish came with a story. Apparently the chef and his wife, Nancy, who runs the front of the house amongst other things, had recently moved into a new home they had been working on for some time. This consomme was served surrounded by a bed of nettles, leaves, pines and other assorted shrubbery the chef had foraged from their property that morning, over which the waiter poured steaming hot water to give off a delightful Fall scent.

gently cooked casco bay cod, egg battered croutons, saffron-tabasco mayo, chorizo-mussel broth

gently cooked casco bay cod, egg battered croutons, saffron-tabasco mayo, chorizo-mussel broth

Great textures in this dish. Crispy crouton, flaky cod, chewy mussels.

green apple snow

green apple snow

Palate cleanser. They needed to make sure your mouth was ready for the party that was about to bust out with the next dish.

gedalias farm goat ravioli, fried halloumi, raisin puree

gedalias farm goat ravioli, fried halloumi, raisin puree

Good lord this was amazing. The raviolo was filled with a rich braised goat and the crispy fried cheese and sweet raisin puree was a perfect contrast. I saw this on the regular menu as well so if it’s there, get it, and reap the delicious rewards.

bresaola, shaved fennel, beet

bresaola, shaved fennel, beet

beef fat belgium fry, beef tartare, quail egg

beef fat belgium fry, beef tartare, quail egg

This time my dish won. The thick, crispy fried potato topped with beef tartare and sunny side up egg was the perfect bite.

sweet and sicy sweetbreads, basmati rica cakes, peanut, bok choy, cilantro

sweet and sicy sweetbreads, basmati rice cakes, peanut, bok choy, cilantro

Of all the great food we had, this was my favorite. And again, it was a traditional flavor combination but prepared with a twist. The rice cake was like the world’s best tater tot, and the sweetbread gave the asian flavors a texture contrast that a more traditional meat can’t offer. It was perfect. I ate mine and Liz’s. Very quickly.

"beef ribs", rib eye, short rib, potato puree, multiple= “beef ribs”, rib eye, short rib, potato puree, multiple preparations of onion

The hits just kept on coming with the two preparations of beef along with potato and onion accompaniments. Fried onion, onion puree, onion pearls, grilled onion. The short rib had been pulled and then pressed to form a cube of tender beef heaven, and the potato puree with the pool of gravy was buttery magic.

tarentaise, spring brook farm, reading vt. port poached pear, toasted vanilla walnuts, baguette chips

tarentaise, spring brook farm, reading vt. port poached pear, toasted vanilla walnuts, baguette chips

Even the pear on the cheese plate brought it. Port poached to perfection.

Maine blueberry sorbet, short bread crumble, ginger, honey mead sabayon

Maine blueberry sorbet, short bread crumble, ginger, honey mead sabayon

The first dessert was a nice preamble to the second and third. Started off on the lighter, fruitier side.

"crispy cream" braised apple, date, long pepper

"crispy cream" braised apple, date, long pepper

The crispy cream here was a fried custard  and along with the braised apple it made this dish-licking good.

"Peanut butter cup" warm bittersweet chocolate pudding cake, salted peanut ice cream, peanut butter powder

"Peanut butter cup" warm bittersweet chocolate pudding cake, salted peanut ice cream, peanut butter powder

But this was even better. The salt, the ice cream, the creamy cake that was buried underneath, all contributed to a perfect ender. Might be a bit rich for some after a big meal, but not this guy. I finished Liz’s as well.

There were no flaws in this meal. Usually when we get a tasting menu there is a dish or two that we didn’t love or, perhaps, didn’t even like. But for the second time at Hugo’s the Chef’s Menu has impressed top to bottom. I don’t think there is another restaurant in New England that could pull that off. If you live in Boston, take the ferry, the train, or just drive the 1:45 to Portland and see what it’s all about for yourself.

Hugo's on Urbanspoon

On some occasions  a meal at TW food, particularly the tasting menu, can rival the best you can get anywhere in the Boston area. Other times it falls a bit flat. On this particular night some dishes shined, and others… not so much. The fact that TW food changes their menu so frequently means that a poorly conceived dish (like the rosti below) is not of particular concern. It will fall out of favor soon enough. Their restaurant model, a reliance on local and seasonal products, means chefs often have to do more with less and this seems to motivate them to take a few more risks in the kitchen, trying things they otherwise wouldn’t. This comes with the cost of the occasional misfire, but overall leads to a better dining experience for the loyal customer. But this acceptable level of variability in dish quality cannot explain a particular failure of execution of which TW Food is too often guilty: simple seasoning errors.  This was my fourth visit and on each occasion several if not more dishes have either been under or over seasoned. This meal was seriously lacking some salt. As far as problems go, under-salting is fairly benign. But shit, it’s fairly easy to correct too.

charcuterie plate

charcuterie plate

We sampled the boudin blanc, pate de campagne and the pig’s head scrapple. All excellent. The pig’s head scrapple (the fried discs on the far right) was particularly delightful. All of it is housemade and I plan on returning soon to try the rest of the charcuterie (rillettes, morcilla sausage, cotechino, liver mousse).

fennel soup

fennel soup

The soup was the first indication that the kitchen was running low on Morton’s. My friend had to request a shaker.

scramble farm egg with forest mushrooms

creamy scrambled farm egg, honeycap mushrooms, onion marmelade

My scrambled egg was a tasty little dish. The eggs themselves, again, needed salt. But eating them in combination with the onion marmelade restored balance to the flavor. Though if that was the concept then the onions shouldn’t have been buried at the bottom of the glass. Maybe a different vessel would solve this problem.

thing i cant remember
swiss potato rosti, beer-braised pork shank, pig foot, cured ham and wild marinated mushrooms

This dish was a total paper tiger. How good does it sound? A mix of braised pork, pig foot, potato and ham? But this turned out to be little more than glorified hash browns. The pieces of meat were almost indiscernible within the somewhat dry shredded potato.

tagliatelle
fettucine, goat’s milk cheese, leeks, chanterelles

Again needed salt. My friend went back for the shaker.

I’m going to keep going back to TW Food despite their salt aversion. The atmosphere is tasteful and casual and that charcuterie is top notch. The tasting menus are creative and reasonably priced and more often than not we enjoy the food there. Maybe I should learn to just appreciate their attempt to contribute to the cardiovascular health of their patrons.

T.W. Food on Urbanspoon

After Carlo and I spent the day wandering around San Francisco we decided to give Zuni Cafe a try for lunch.  Carlo had been treating me to meals cooked from the excellent Zuni Cafe cookbook for weeks and we wanted to see if the original version of their famous Ceasar salad measured up to Carlo’s.  It didn’t but it was very good.  Zuni has a neat set up.  The bulding is shaped like a triangle, and the kitchen is in the middle of the base of the triangle with the bar along one side of the triangle, so Zuni has arranged little pockets of seats all over the place, including in the mezzanine.  We were seated in the only two seats that face right into the open kitchen so we had built in entertainment.  Our view was of the pizza guy, who mesmerized us with his methodical repetitive pizza making throughout our lunch.

pizza guy

pizza guy

I ordered the Ceasar salad, of course, and Carlo had a half-dozen oysters.

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caesar salad

caesar salad

The Ceasar salad was very good, but I missed the grilled chicken and whole pieces of egg that Carlo put on his, and the oysters were tasty, though we’re not really oyster connoisseurs.  We shared a cheeseburger on rosemary foccacia with Roth Kase cheese from the great state of Wisconsin.  Our very friendly server had the kitchen cut it in half for us and put it on separate plates after he learned we were sharing, which was a nice touch. The cheeseburger was a little rich, but very fresh and flavorful.

cheeseburger, pickled red onions, pickled cukes

cheeseburger, pickled red onions, pickled cukes

It came with a mountain of crispy salty shoestring potatoes that we made them take away after we ate half of them.  They were a little too good.  The highlight for me was the dessert: Gateau Victoire with whipped cream.  Essentially a perfectly moist, chocolately, but not too sweet, not too dense, chocolate cake with whipped cream on it.  Can’t beat that.   All in all, it was a very nice meal to compliment a beautiful day walking around San Francisco.

chocolate cake with a glass of nonino amaro

chocolate cake with a glass of nonino amaro

Zuni Cafe on Urbanspoon

ad hoc

Ad hoc was originally intended to be a temporary space filler as Thomas Keller put the finishing touches on his burger and wine restaurant concept, but it became so popular that he decided to keep it around. The concept is simple: a fixed price ($50 a head)  family style four course meal, changing daily. The atmosphere is great – casual, comfortable and hip with music that Liz’s brother occasionally found “flaccid and mundane” but otherwise enjoyed. The service was friendly and the food was great all around.

trout saladSmoked trout salad with radishes, fava beans, red onions, boiled potatoes and a delightful dressing.

whole duckDuck three ways: confit legs, seared breast, and duck sausage in rice. Sugar snap peas on the side.

cheese plateCheese plate with apples and honey roasted hazelnuts.

bread pudding

Bread pudding with raisins, vanilla custard and marmalade.

The success of ad hoc should be a model for other restaurateurs. Specifically what they should take note of is that, contrary to what many people believe, people don’t like options. Really, they don’t. There’s strong evidence from psychological research on decision making showing that people are happier with their choices when they have fewer of them. This may seem counterintuitive, but think of the experience of looking at a huge menu. It can be overwhelming. Are you in the mood for pork? Veal? Beef? Fish? Pasta? If a lot of the choices look good to you (indeed, especially if a lot of choices look good to you) you will likely take a long time to pick, pick arbitrarily and then have a strong case of buyer’s remorse when you see the waiter serve the hanger steak with polenta fries that you passed on to the self-satisfied stooge at the next table. Something not quite perfect about the monkfish you settled on? It’s so easy to imagine how good that steak would have tasted.

This phenomenon doesn’t solely work on the psychological level. A smaller menu lets the kitchen concentrate on making those dishes better. The cod fritter appetizer you order from a selection of 3 options will definitely be prepared with more care than the same dish ordered from a selection of 10. It’s a win-win. The customer is happier, the food is better, the kitchen is calmer. Of course, it would be unfortunate for people who have very specific dietary needs, and for those who are particularly picky eaters. But a smart kitchen will always be able to accommodate dietary restrictions in a tasty way, and I’ve always had a particular disdain for the latter group who think that every restaurant should be capable of accommodating their whims. Don’t eat fish because it’s yucky? Then go to a steakhouse. Trade specialization worked for most societies, seems like it would do wonders for the food industry as well. I am all about promoting more vegan restaurants if it makes it easier for other restaurants to cook food the way they want to and in a manner more conducive to quality.

Ad Hoc on Urbanspoon

Garden at the Cellar is having an identity crisis.  The food is original, delicious, and well-presented – thanks to Will Gilson who was a semi-finalist for the James Beard Rising Star Chef award.  Unfortunately, the atmosphere and service are part airport bar and grill, part college town watering hole.  That is to say, the only decoration is an electronic beer sign and the service, though friendly, is inattentive and absent-minded. It feels as though an excellent chef was just plopped into a nondescript local bar and the two haven’t totally adjusted to each other yet. Though there were several employees milling about, and only 6 diners in the restaurant when we arrived at 5:30pm, it took them a few minutes to acknowledge our conspicuous presence and ask if we wanted dinner.  We did, and we were told we could choose any table.

The menu at Garden at the Cellar is enticing: chickpea fries and pork belly and foie gras with donuts!  The only disappointment was the wine list.  It was very reasonably priced, but also very limited in selection.  There were fewer than 20 wines, none of which were particularly interesting, to choose from, which was surprising since the name of the restaurant is derived from The Cellar, the wine store it is connected to.  The variety is irrelevant though if you order wine and it never comes, which is what happened to us.  We ordered the cheapest bottle on the list ($24), a Primitivo, after quite a bit of discussion and thought.  But our waitress never brought it.  She did remember it about 3/4 into the meal but, at that point, we didn’t want it. Carlo did get the cocktail he ordered, a basil lemon drop.  It tasted metallic and took a long time to arrive because, our waitress informed us in a very friendly way, they couldn’t find the simple sugar.

Onto the food.  We decided to get two small plates, four appetizers, and to share an entree because the former two lists just looked so good.  For small plates, we got chickpea fries with lemon zest and parmesan and other various toppings I can’t quite remember.  Wow, they were delicious.  Chickpea flour is really underused.  A beautiful golden color, creamy, unique, best dish of the night.  We also got White Bean Puree, which was very good, but not as original.

White Bean Puree and Chickpea Fries

White Bean Puree and Chickpea Fries

We each ordered two appetizers, with the hope that they would come out two at a time.  We should have said that, and we didn’t, and they all came out at once, and it was annoying.  If you’re in a bar and your buffalo wings come out with your burger, who really cares? But if you’re in a place that serves interesting, delicious food, then having to shovel it all in before it gets cold really undermines the chef’s efforts. We ordered Cod Fritters with chives, remoulade and citrus, Handmade Burratta with spiced date purée, Za’atar, lemon oil, Seared Foie Gras & Doughnuts with various forms of rhubarb, and Pork Belly with spicy beans. The cod fritters tasted fresh and were hot and crispy on the outside and the seared foie gras and rhubarb and donut combination was original and delicious–tart, sweet, and fatty all at once.  The Burrata was a little too sweet and though the pork belly was great, the beans were so spicy that they contrasted in a weird way with the rest of the sweet-ish food.  But overall, we were impressed.

Housemade Burrata from Somerville

Burratta from Somerville

Pork Belly

Pork Belly

Cod Fritters

Cod Fritters

Foie Gras, Donuts, Rhubarb

Foie Gras, Donuts, Rhubarb

And finally, we split the Pork Weiner Schnitzel with poached egg and artichokes and lima beans.  Our shared entree was just as good as the appetizers.  Deliciously well-seasoned schnitzel, though the artichokes and lima beans were a little salty as was the sauce they were sitting in.  And our poached egg came out in a bowl after we were half-way through the dish because someone had forgotten to put it on the plate.  We would not have remembered this had they not brought it out, but they did, and it just reminded us of their sloppy service.

100_0208

So despite the strange ambiance, the meal was great.  Though again, we were in a restaurant that does not take reservations and thus does not offer dessert.  I will also point out that we had arrived at the door of the restaurant, consumed a cocktail and seven different plates of food, paid and left the restaurant, in an astounding 58 minutes.  There will be no lingering in Garden at the Cellar, they want you out of there ASAP, yet another thing that undercuts the quality of the food.  The Garden’s only saving grace was that they give diners a little bit of chocolate at the end of the meal.  Enough to not make me hate them, but certainly not enough to satiate one’s need for dessert.

So at this point, it was 6:28pm and we decided to set out for Sweet, a cupcake bakery in the Back Bay that we had heard has phenomenal cupcakes.  Being a lover of the bus, I thought this was a great opportunity to hop on the #1 that heads straight down Mass. Ave.  We walked over to the stop in Central Square and began patiently waiting for the bus.  Which didn’t come.  And the crowd got thicker and thicker.  I do recommend the Central Square bus stop if you’re looking for a bit of post-dinner theater on a Saturday night.  After a 15 minute wait and the third time a seemingly drunk man who kept engaging me in conversation about his best friend’s girl yelled angrily at me to stop looking at him with my “deer eyes” we decided to walk into Boston, which is really not that far.

It wasn’t worth the walk.  We paid $7 for two semi-dry overly frosted, though pretty, cupcakes.  The place is also trying too hard to be cool.  It’s all white and they have a big flat screen that was playing American in Paris.  Odd.  To be fair, we got there at the end of the evening and they were out of nearly every kind of cupcake they have, so maybe there are better options.  We got the dark chocolate with chocolate frosting and the vanilla with chocolate frosting.  Just not worth it; better value for your money with Duncan Hines.

Garden at the Cellar on Urbanspoon

Sweet on Urbanspoon

Though our last visit to Ten Tables was sort of a bummer, we have not given up on it and were excited about trying the new location in the former Craigie Street Bistro.  The quarters are tight even in Ten Tables’ new establishment, but there is enough space not to feel like you’re going to knock wine and people over as you walk to the bathroom.  Ten Tables has done a nice job with the decor; it’s both sleeker and more inviting than Craigie Street was with better (lower) lighting and leather banquettes.

Feeling celebratory, we started the meal with cocktails.  I got the KK, named after TT’s proprietor Krista Kranyak, and made with passion fruit juice, ginger, and champagne, an unfortunate choice for a preprandial drink.  It was all passion fruit and ginger and no champagne, which was the opposite of what I was hoping for.  It wasn’t bad; it was just meant for brunch.  Carlo’s drink, the Gaston 76 made with White Lillet, Cucumber and Tarragon on the rocks, was the perfect summer late afternoon cocktail, cold and refreshing and only a little sweet.  And while we’re discussing pre-dinner fare, the bread was also really good, chewy and soft and reminiscent of the best of Iggy’s bread.  The only downside  of the bread course was that we didn’t get much oil and no matter how clean we licked its plate, no one brought us more.

Onto wine…we made a bad choice.  Okay, I made a bad choice.  As a small, easily-intoxicated person, I am trying to push for more half bottles and carafes in Boston restaurants.  And by “trying to push”, I mean I like to order them.  Ten Tables offered a house wine, which is something I frequently and successfully order when traveling, as well as a few half bottles.  Carlo was adamantly opposed to the half bottle on account of it being a rip off.  Since we can usually only drink a half bottle anyway, I don’t see the problem in paying $23 for a decent but overpriced bottle.  I still get what I want and so it’s a win if it’s even marginally cheaper than the whole bottle we may have ordered.  Carlo wouldn’t hear of it so we compromised on the horrible barely palatable half carafe of house wine for $14, which tasted like it came out of a box of Franzia or possibly a jug.   Carlo pointed out (after we ordered) that the reason house wine is good when we travel in Europe is that we are drinking in the vicinity of a vineyard.  We should have asked what it was before we paid for it.  We didn’t.  You get what you pay for.

Onto the food.  A lot of it was good. Some of it wasn’t.

For our appetizers:

Spicy Steak Tartare: Pickled hon Shimenji Mushrooms and Watercress

Spicy Steak Tartare: Pickled hon Shimenji Mushrooms and Watercress

Carlo ordered Spicy Steak Tartare.  This was the loser of the appetizers from my perspective. Though Carlo thought it was tasty on the whole and liked it better than what I ordered, to me, the flavor of the pickledness was overwhelming and came across as almost sweet.  It wasn’t bad; just not re-orderable.

Fluke Crudo with chives, olive oil, sea salt and citrus

Fluke Crudo with chives, olive oil, sea salt and citrus

My appetizer was fresh and well-seasoned and overall tasty.  This is not an original combination but it was done with fresh and flavorful ingredients and was exactly what I wanted. The picture makes it look really busy, but flavorwise it did not come across that way. Carlo thought the grapefruit dominated everything else on the plate, though I chalk this up to him not liking grapefruit.

Entrees:

Portuguese Monkfish Stew with Wellfleet Littleneck Clams, Fine Herbs, Garlic Aioli and Piment D'Espelette

Portuguese Monkfish Stew with Wellfleet Littleneck Clams, Fine Herbs, Garlic Aioli and Piment D'Espelette

Meh.  The broth and poached Monkfish were flavorless and there was a big gob of aioli in the middle of the bowl that did not stir in well.  The only good part of this was the clams.  They were good and were basically all I ate.

Housemade Boudin Blanc with Hudson Valley Duck Confit, Mustard Cream Lentils, Endive and Apple

Housemade Boudin Blanc with Hudson Valley Duck Confit, Mustard Cream Lentils, Endive and Apple

Best dish of the night.  I did not try all of the components, but the Boudin Blanc itself was flavorful and unique and something I would order over and over.

Desserts: Carlo and I both thought our own dessert was better than the other, which I guess is a good sign. I had the chocolate terrine with Thai basil ice cream and sea salt –  the perfect complement of rich creamy chocolate, salt and sweet basil.

Warm Sticky Toffee Pudding with Homemade Vanilla Bean Ice Cream

Warm Sticky Toffee Pudding with Homemade Vanilla Bean Ice Cream

To me, this was a sickly sweet mess, but Carlo liked it so much he couldn’t keep his hands still for the picture.  It tasted good and I would have been happy with it had it been mine, but it had none of the balance of the chocolate dessert.  To each his own.

Overall, Ten Tables delivers with just a few mis-hits.  Unfortunately it’s out of the way for Bostonians, a bit of a walk from Harvard Square T and has only four parking spots, making a visit difficult.  It’s a place I would happily go to if in the neighborhood, but I am not sure it is good enough to merit a special trip, especially considering it requires risking a parking ticket.

Ten Tables on Urbanspoon

Franklin Cafe

Franklin Cafe

Carlo and I have had a visit to Franklin Cafe on our to-do list for quite some time.   What has been holding us back is my uncanny inability to wait for anything.  Franklin Cafe does not take reservations and unless I’m on vacation with no place to go on a nice day, I cannot stand to wait for a table for more than 15 minutes.  So to circumvent my disability, we went early on a Saturday evening, arriving at 5:45pm to find a single unoccupied booth in the back.  Phew.

We started the evening with cocktails.  This is not our usual habit, but FC is known for their drinks list so we thought we’d throw caution to the wind and have some liquor.  It was a mistake.  Carlo ordered a blood orange martini with Charbay Blood Orange, Vodka, OJ, Campari, which he found overly bitter.  He liked my Spiced Pear made with Grey Goose Pear, Fresh Apple Juice, Ginger, which was reminiscent of cider and would have been more appropriate as a warm drink by the fire after a day of skiing.

Part of the problem was that we had barely made a dent in our drinks when (tasty) bread and the wine and appetizers showed up.  Spiced pear and short ribs just don’t mix.   I’ve been trying to promote (in my mind) the dissemination of half bottles of wine so we ordered the only red they had, which was a Guigal Gigondas Rhone.   It was very pleasant table wine, but probably should have been $23 for a bottle, not for a half bottle.  The appetizers were pretty good, nothing remarkable.  I got braised short ribs with turnip greens and sweet carrots and Carlo inexplicably ordered mac and cheese gnocchi with roasted tomato, sausage, and goat cheese.  I say inexplicably because it’s pretty clear that Carlo is not going to like baked gnocchi made in an American bistro in the South End.  I tried them too and they were okay but kind of mushy and covered in below average tomato sauce.

The atmosphere at Franklin Cafe is great. It’s casual with nice dim lighting, good background music, an attractive bar, friendly people, but it was increasingly evident throughout the evening that FC wanted to turn over as many tables as possible as quickly as possible.  Undoubtedly this is the goal for most restaurants, but some hide it better than others. I also felt significant pressure from all the beady-eyed staring diners-in-waiting that I had trouble enjoying my meal, which is another reason I do not like reservationless restaurants. Our waitress was amicable and not pushy, but our entrees came out as she was clearing the appetizers.   It was unpleasant to go from mac and cheese and short ribs to steak frites and roasted chicken so quickly.

Again, the food was decent.  The frites were good; the steak was slightly overcooked (granted Carlo thinks any steak that doesn’t moo is too done).  The Roquefort butter was tasty.  The roast chicken I ordered was a strange choice.  I am not sure I have ever ordered chicken in a restaurant, but nothing else on the menu excited me and I thought grapes and chicken sounded like a strange combination.  They were.  Not exactly bad, but there was no relationship between them.  It reminded me of something my parents would make in an effort to get me to eat more fruits and vegetables.  We also ordered brussel sprouts for a side; they were good.

Here is where things took a turn for the worse.  At this point in the evening, I realized just how sick and twisted this world can be.  What happened is this:  I asked for the dessert menu, and the seemingly friendly waitress revealed her true colors.  She said, without a flicker of remorse, ‘we don’t have dessert.’  What the hell kind of “restaurant” does not serve dessert?  When I walked into the Franklin Cafe, an American bistro, I had dreams of bread pudding and fruit crisps with homemade ice cream.  Maybe even something with Meyer lemon in it?  But instead, they left us high and dry, a bit empty and sad and wondering where to go.

Luckily, we were very close to the South End Buttery, a cafe and now restaurant, known for their cupcakes and for the fact that their name has the word ‘buttery’ in it.  The new cozy-looking restaurant would not let us in for desserts-only so we sat in the empty closing cafe and shared the only cupcake available, the Red Velvet with Cream Cheese frosting.  It was spectacular.  Of course we were still reeling from the catastrophe back at FC, so maybe we were under the influence of oppression, but it was a really good cupcake.  The cream cheese frosting contrasted beautifully with the bite of vinegar in the cake.  So not all was lost in the evening.

Though the Franklin Cafe had a nice atmosphere and decent food, I think that we will be more likely to return to the Buttery for cupcakes and maybe dinner than we will be to the long waits and rushed dessertless service of the FC.

Franklin Cafe on Urbanspoon

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