Review: Canary Square

Remaking a popular spot in Jamaica Plain
By ROBERT NADEAU  |  January 12, 2011
2.0 2.0 Stars

01142011_CSJerk
GENERIC CANARIES Like a lot of the items on the Canary Square menu, these jerk chicken wings are good, but not outstanding.

Where are the canaries? There are no canaries here. This gastropub is on Jamaica Plain's William E. Canary Square, marked with a sign few read in memory of Corporal Canary, who died in World War I. The attempt at localization has two weaknesses. First, it doesn't really cover up the generic quality of this restaurant, which is part of a small chain including Coda and Common Ground; second, it doesn't erase memories of what was previously here: the Alchemist, which had strong ties to the community and had become a neighborhood meeting place and music venue, in its semi-Gothic way. The new owners have opened up the space to a single room and stripped back to bare brick and ceiling beams (spray-painted black so we know it is a gastropub). They have, on the whole, greatly upgraded the bar and beer programs, and somewhat improved the food, although the Alchemist was serviceable enough. They announced music, but there isn't room for a stage.

There also isn't bread. The high price of wheat has reached the restaurant universe. Canary Square cleverly offers house-made bread-and-butter pickles instead of bread and butter. They are crisp and sweet-sour, and dissolve any grudge about starch (which is restored among the entrées by a generous use of whipped potatoes, as at Coda).

Appetizers run large and, with drinks, may make a meal for some people. Jerk chicken wings ($8) are eight segments with grill marks and invisible hot sauce (though not the allspice I associate with jerk), served with a cup of lime yogurt for cooling them off. Ale-steamed mussels ($10) are plump winter mussels served with steak fries and mayonnaise, as they might be in Paris. They could cook off the alcohol in the ale a little at the end, but the onion-ale-mussel broth makes good soup and nags a little for bread. Atlantic salt cod fritters ($8) are puffed up like Rhode Island clam fritters, with too much breadstuff per bit of salt cod. Excellent frying, though, so this could be adjusted.

The salad of local apple and arugula ($9) is compromised by the choice of red delicious apple, but saved by excellent toasted walnuts and local goat cheese, and plenty of (for the moment) winter arugula. A simple greens salad ($7) has a little more of the goat cheese, and both have real vinaigrette dressings.

The "chef's selection of charcuterie" ($14) aims too high, although the pâté with embedded rillettes and head cheese is very good. The rillettes by themselves, served under fat in a shot glass, are too lean — the idea of this Quebec specialty is to cook pork slowly in fat (like uncured confit duck) and include some of the lard for flavor. Duck prosciutto, though popular, is here too salty and/or cut too thick. The trimmings of toasted baguette, mustard sauce, pickled onions, and such are fine. But I would have the chef focus on conventional pâté and terrines.

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