Bergamot

A perfect complement to Somerville — or, for that matter, anywhere
By ROBERT NADEAU  |  May 24, 2010
4.0 4.0 Stars

1005_bergamot_main
THERE’S AN APP FOR THAT Asparagus panna cotta is a neat little asparagus pudding, decorated with a ham chip and a Parmesan tuile.

Bergamot | 118 Beacon Street, Somerville | 617.576.7700 | Open Sunday–Thursday, 5:30–10 pm; Friday and Saturday, 5:30–10:30 pm; Bar open Sunday–Saturday, 5:30 pm–1 am | AE, MC, VI | Full bar | No valet parking, off-street private lot | Sidewalk-level access
I guess the experimental-chef thing isn’t over, after all. At least not at Somerville’s Bergamot, the chosen sobriquet of which is “progressive American cuisine and a warm neighborhood setting.” There is a potential contradiction here: “warm neighborhood” usually goes with “comfort food,” even in neighborhoods of progressive bent. But chef-owner Keith Pooler and front manager–owner Servio Garcia have figured out how to do innovative and fancy fare at relatively modest price points, with solid but informal service.

They incorporate some classics; some seasonal, local, and sustainable ingredients; and some visual stunners you want to photograph before munching — and deliver it all without breaking the relaxed mood. Factor in the $39 blackboard special of three or four courses (available from 5:30 to 7 pm) and you get a lovely populist nod to the restaurant’s location at the crossroads of haut Cambridge (Julia Child lived two blocks away) and working-class Somerville, with its perpetual influx of youth.

We started with an amuse-bouche of “ham tartar” on a crescent bit of bread crust, with enough truffle oil to arouse the gourmets. (This critic, like about 10 percent of the population, cannot smell the musky component of truffle aroma.) Since the space was previously occupied by the eclectic eatery EVOO, it’s only right to have a pour of extra-virgin olive oil and some soft bread with a crust.

My favorite appetizer, asparagus panna cotta ($10), was scavenged from the expired blackboard special. It was a neat little asparagus pudding, decorated with a crispy ham chip and a Parmesan tuile. A rectangle of beautiful and flavorful baby roasted beet morsels ($10) had predictable bits of cheese and browned walnuts, but a surprising leaf of shiso (usually a foil for sashimi).

Manila clam ragout ($13) could be another nod to the neighborhood, since the effect was rather Portuguese, but the actual ingredients were mid-Med flavors of saffron, capers, seafood broth, and a toasted pasta that seemed like a whole grain. The fresh sardines ($12) appetizer is definitely a nod to East Cambridge, though the specific source is a sustainable fishery in Spain, and the treatment (split and grilled on spring peas and slices of fingerling potato, then powdered with egg yolk confetti) was not only post-Azorean, but postmodern.

An egg-battered East Coast halibut ($27) entrée was beautiful, even if I couldn’t see the batter. The fish was cut into a white brick, a shape so outside normal experience that it grabbed attention. It was superbly fresh and light, and had a wisp of onion sauce, little green fava beans, and slices of new bliss potato.

I also liked the entrée from that day’s blackboard, slow roasted beef chuck ($25) with a purée of potatoes and more fresh peas. The hero was the slices of rare roast beef, which had the full flavor of shoulder cuts and were tender à la slow roasting (allegedly two hours) but still rare.

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