THE EYES HAVE IT: Like much of the menu here, Stoddard’s charcuterie plate is a notch above, with quail-egg sausage and a tasty rabbit ballotine.
|Stoddard’s Fine Food and Ale | 48 Temple Place, Boston | 617.426.0048 | Open Tuesday–Saturday, 5 pm–2 am; Sunday, 10:30 am–2 am | AE, DC, DI, MC, VI | Full bar | validated parking at Lafayette Garage, $2 weeknights; $10 weekends | Sidewalk level access|
Some of the great ones do it by instinct, but William Ashmore, owner of Stoddard's (and Ivy across the street) appears to be someone given to second thoughts, maybe nots, and serial inspirations. It seems to have taken him about a year and half from the initial announcements to get Stoddard's open, and concepts have been trimmed and changed a time or two since.
Don't tell him not to overthink it, however, because what we have in the umpteenth iteration is a heckuva good restaurant tucked into a handsome bar. "Gastropub" completely understates what chef Mark Cina is doing with low-20s entrees that look and taste as good as what the big hotel dining rooms put out at twice the price. The chicken pot pie ($18), like the rest of his cheffed-up comfort food, is better than every other one in town — not because it has fancier ingredients, but because the fancier ingredients (parsnips, a Jerusalem artichoke, a few slices of chicken sausage) are fully integrated into the pie's original gloopy-gravy ideal. It is like the difference between being a good dog and being a good person. Being a good dog is the essence of a thing; being a good person is a garnish on top of a thing.
One of the steps backward has been from a full-tilt craft cocktail menu, originally to be pegged to Jerry Thomas's 1860s manual of the art, published in the same decade the Stoddard's building was erected. The new design strips it back to some of the bare brick of that old structure, decorates it with corsets in homage to its original use as a shop for lady's unmentionables, and only casually references its more recent history as a knife-and-scissors emporium. An enormous antique bar dominates the space, and features five cask-conditioned ales (most of the beer-geek landmarks open only one at a time) as well as a good assortment of draughts and bottles.
Food starts with chewy French bread rolls and fine sweet butter. Like everyone these days, Cina has a charcuterie plate (market price; recently $12), but I don't think anyone else has a quail-egg sausage — each lean slice like a face, with two embedded quail-egg eyes. The flavor star was a rabbit ballotine with some pickled mustard seeds as garnish.
Clams casino ($9) starts the late Victorian nostalgia parade, returning a creamy richness to this dish of chopped clams and bacon with buttered crumbs, and a lemon remoulade dabbed on for even more richness. A "grilled romaine" salad with olive-oil-poached salmon ($11) is just that, and so good and generous it would make a light lunch. The only weak appetizer I thought was lobster scallion hush puppies ($11), which were stiffer but just as stodgy as Rhode Island clam fritters.