Provençal fish stew at Sycamore

FOOD COMA
By MC SLIM JB  |  February 13, 2013

FOOD_COMA_provencal_fish_stew_MG_8471JoelVeak

For food geeks accustomed to dining in urban Boston, it's easy to be a little dismissive of suburban restaurants. After too many underwhelming meals at places more than a few miles from the State House, optimism fades. So it's a pleasant surprise to run across newcomer Sycamore, where chef/owner David Punch is working much the same vein he did at Jamaica Plain's Ten Tables and its Cambridge sequel: cooking refined, seasonal New American cuisine with a strong French accent, adding a sophisticated drinks program, and keeping the atmosphere relaxed.

Bar manager Scott Schoer (ex-Abigail's) starts by slinging serious, historically grounded craft cocktails at his comfy 10-seat bar. Examples include the Ghost of Mary ($10), an albino Bloody Mary variant made with tomato water and a house-pickled green bean, and the Corpse Reviver #2 ($11) of gin, white quinquina, Cointreau, lemon, and absinthe — drink two and you might be feeling zombified. On the French-leaning wine list, bottles of white run from $30 to $82, reds from $30 to $140, with a mid-point around $55. The by-the-glass list is gentler ($7–$12); draft wines like the citrusy, barely off-dry 2012 Gotham Project Finger Lakes Riesling ($7/glass, $18/half-liter) and nightly red pours like a 2010 Château de Caladroy ($8), an earthy Syrah blend from Languedoc-Roussillon, are useful bargains. The tightly curated beer list, with six drafts ($6–$7) and seven cans and bottles ($3–$14), leans local with offerings like Jack's Abby Jabby Brau on tap ($6), a session lager brewed in Framingham with surprising hoppy depth and maltiness for the low-alcohol style.

Grazers will be very happy with bar snacks like gougères ($4), French cheesy poofs (eat 'em while they're hot), and chorizo croquetas ($5), fantastic crunchy deep-fried nuggets of smoky-hot Spanish cured sausage and mashed potato, with almond romesco for dipping. Appetizers include the ravishing grilled cobia ($13), a few slices of a firm-fleshed fish that is increasingly appearing on Boston-area menus with a local focus, tasting like a cross between wild salmon and swordfish. Here, it's accompanied by chili-hot harissa, couscous, and a smear of charred sweet-onion puree. Another fine starter is drawn from the nightly $33 three-course prix fixe "blackboard menu": a smoothly pureed, complexly spiced Turkish red-lentil soup ($10) garnished with a shredded-carrot fritter and a drizzle of yogurt.

Entrees include one rather above-average vegetarian dish, "choux farci" ($21): cabbage stuffed with an assortment of mushrooms and baked, flanked with a sweet, soft polenta and sauced with a mushroom jus. In proper French bistro fashion, steak frites ($27) boasts a hefty slab of grilled beef — here using the less-seen top sirloin, a deep-red, well-marbled, faintly chewy cut — in red-wine jus with a dollop of marrow butter and a pile of excellent, largish fries. Another blackboard special, boudin blanc ($23), centers on one large, pale, mild-as-milk pork sausage with a kicky mustard-beer sauce, surrounded by good pommes purée and superb sweet/sour red cabbage flecked with fennel seeds. The magnificent Provençal fish stew ($24) offers manifold seafood flavors, including a big hunk of monkfish, mussels, four perfect littlenecks in the shell, a crouton slathered with intense rouille, and especially a deep-flavored tomato/saffron broth based on quality crab stock.

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