Woodward at Ames

Ben Franklin meets a supermodel? Go with it — it works.
By ROBERT NADEAU  |  April 29, 2010
3.0 3.0 Stars

FRESH SLICE: A special “spring” flatbread was outstanding — super thin, with just enough cheese to hold the shredded Vidalia onions, asparagus tips, and wild mushrooms.

Woodward at Ames | One Court Street, Boston | 617.979.8200 | Open Monday–Thursday, 7 am–12 am; Friday, 7 am–1 am; Saturday, 9 am–1 am; and Sunday, 9 am–12 am | AE, DC, DI, MC, VI | Full bar | Valet parking: $16 | Sidewalk-level access via elevator on Washington Street side
The Woodward is the slightly quieter upstairs of the Woodward Tavern, a high-concept downtown café-bar based on the idea “Ben Franklin meets a supermodel.” Put simply, it’s anachronistic — which makes sense of the decorative scheme that employs lots of Plexiglas vitrines filled with Victorian gee-gaws, in what are generally minimalist, Bauhaus-looking rooms done up in white, black, beige, and gray.

Open rooms don’t hide people, so this is a scene in which to be seen. And you can’t help but notice the waitstaff, shoehorned into black-and-white semi-uniforms (the female version being rather tight and small on top). The glass cases are where the Ben Franklin–ness (the old Boston love of tradition) meets the supermodelness (sleek airbrushed modernity).

What does this theme suggest to chef Mark Goldberg? Super visual food, apparently, and otherwise the kind of chef-does-comfort-food menu that is very 2010. He does well indeed until dessert, when his skills or attention seem to run out. (Supermodels don’t eat dessert, I imagine. And Franklin probably didn’t eat dessert as we do — neither the modern sweet tooth nor the concept of a separate course to satisfy it were ready for him.) So we have a scene in which to see and be seen, and to enjoy a drink or a bite, but perhaps not dessert. Given the quality of our bites, I’ll take it.

Supermodels don’t eat bread, either, I guess. They eat little pickled vegetables, the better to maintain a pouting expression. Thus we began with Japanese-style sticks of pickled turnips, pickled micro-carrots, fresh grapes, pickled onions, green and yellow beans, florets of cauliflower, and strips of peppers.

Dishes are portioned to be shared, and come out when ready. We ran with that concept with a couple of flatbreads ($16) cut into six pieces. Our night there was also a special “spring” flatbread ($18) with shredded Vidalia onions, asparagus tips, and wild mushrooms on a super-thin grilled crust, with just enough cheese to hold the toppings. I won’t cavil that the mushrooms were autumn varieties. It was splendid.

So was the house-smoked veal pastrami with whole-grain mustard ($17), served as a sandwich on rye bread cut in neat quarters. What health advantages smoked lean veal giveth over beef brisket, the melted cheese taketh away. At least it was complemented by a small salad and pickled-cucumber slices.

The now-proverbial chef’s test is a simple roast chicken ($21), which Goldberg passed. He seasons like a champ and gets the skin crisp and the flesh juicy, even in the tricky Statler cut (boned breast with one wing section sticking up). Goldberg frames this masterpiece with a mound of cunningly augmented whipped potatoes — might be buttermilk, might be a little bit of cream cheese. Whatever the trick, it’s a good one.

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