My favorite appetizer was the white-cheddar, smoky-bacon, and spinach flatbread ($10). This pizza on a fresh pita-like shell is so enticing you may want one for the table and one just for yourself. A grilled-chicken sandwich ($9) was pulled out of the ordinary by being grilled to a crisp. Put that on a bun with lettuce, tomato, and onion, and it's more like a club sandwich than a soggy poultry burger. The croque monsieur ($10) features the classic balanced combination of sourdough bread, ham, and cheese. This one is open face and broiled in the wood-fired oven rather than grilled.
Chicken pot pie ($11) is a throwback move that needs some work. The kitchen uses real green beans, carrots, peas, and chicken pieces, and doesn't overcook them, but it's a bit toothsome for classic tastes. The crust is wonderful and only needs more cooking time (at a cooler corner of the oven) for the flavors to mellow. Baked pasta with four cheeses ($14) is just what you might expect, only more of it. The pasta is rigatoni and the tomato sauce is sharp enough to stand out, though once you get past three cheeses, in my book, you might as well have six or 10 or one good one — the combination just tastes like cheese. A dinner of codfish with leeks and fingerling potatoes ($21), served in a small wok, is fresh but perhaps overly subtle for the surroundings.
Although some appetizers and sandwiches come with a side salad (baby greens, sweet dressing), you may well want side vegetables. The roast asparagus ($4) is impeccably prepared, but there are only seven pencil-thick spears, and too much sea salt besides the shaved parmesan. Potato rosti ($4) cooks hard in the hot oven; it takes leverage to saw off a piece.
The wine list looks interesting, despite the lack of listed vintage years, yet the glasses defeat the wines. A Nessa albariño ($12/glass; $42/bottle) is tart with a slightly bitter finish; a little apple-like aroma was all the nose I could gather. A Jax Y3 chardonnay ($12; $42) has the same nose, which is the house style. Tour de Gendres malbec ($9; $32) I suspect of being from young vines, as the Bergerac region of France has attracted a lot of investment recently, and the success of Argentine malbecs are encouraging this old Bordeaux variety. Older vines would make a more concentrated wine, whereas this red — in bad glasses, anyway — is thin, with alcohol showing. The way to go is draft beer, which drinks well out of a tapered tumbler, if my Shipyard Export Ale ($5.50/pint; $15/pitcher) is any indication. It was thrillingly fresh and clean, with lots of hops and yet all the wine-like notes of a true ale. Decaf coffee ($2) is very nice.
The Toscanini's Meyer lemon sorbet ($6) dessert arrives hard as ice, and is worth the wait in order to get the sweet-tart, slightly limey flavor. Coffee-Oreo ice cream ($6) is merely coffee ice cream with Oreos.
Service is quite fast, with the only sign of inexperience a slight problem getting enough flatware. Since there are no reservations, there is some jostling for your table when you are finished, though that is the fault of the customers, not the wait staff. The atmosphere, which is the house brand here, is developing well. While the twentysomethings are out in force, an obvious Harvard parent or three didn't seem out of line. A lot of shiny surfaces make the room loud when full, which it often is.
Robert Nadeau can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.