The wine list is worldwide, divided by grapes, and full of unusual finds. A special glass of 2005 Abundantly Rich Red ($9) from Mencarini Vineyards in Lodi astonished me with the complexity of fruit flavors derived from the kinds of grapes that once went into dubious homemade wines in Little Italy neighborhoods across America: Central Valley zinfandel and carignane, with a little syrah and petite sirah. Modern technology has turned this mix into a Parker-worthy fruit bomb full of dusky bramble fruit. The 2008 Argentine malbec Crios de Susana ($11), which I would have expected to have the same sort of character, was austere and structured by comparison.
My venture into a classic Ward 8 ($9) cocktail, however, was not entirely satisfactory. This drink requires a balance of sweet and sour that is subtly disrupted at South End Buttery by a switch from traditional rye to Old Fitzgerald bourbon (perhaps the sweetest brand of a sweeter whiskey) and a little too much grenadine. That turns it from an orange drink to a pink one that looks and tastes like a stirred-up Tequila Sunrise.
A variety of loose teas ($3.75) is served in custom bags brought to the table in hot cups of water. Judging by my Yunnan tea, it brews up plenty strong. Our server forgot to ask if we needed milk. But he did bring the final gift of a bakery that’s grown up: truly scrumptious desserts.
At last, the city has a bread pudding ($6) with some custard between the well-soaked pieces of bread. The Buttery also does well by offering a classic chocolate mousse ($6), revised only by cramming it into a giant old-fashioned glass and tossing in some roasted hazelnuts. Chocolate soufflé ($9) is faster to the table than most, but might have needed longer to take on full soufflé-ness. This was more like an all-molten-chocolate cupcake, foiled with butter cookies. A trio of sorbets ($6) had a fabulous lychee on top, with a mid-layer of rather good red raspberry. My guests got it away from me before I had any of the third layer.
Dinner service was excellent, despite the awkward layout with most of the dining area below street level. Summer brings more sidewalk tables to this relatively quiet intersection of Union Park and Shawmut. The atmosphere runs to sophisticated locals, who know a relative bargain or have befriended the location over more modest snacks and brunches. Techno seems to be the music, though once the restaurant fills up it’s hard to hear it. That said, the small rooms prevent large noise. Our room featured exposed basement stone, oak café tables, and tufted leather chairs.
I don’t know that the owner planned to have such a classy restaurant, but his business plan is bound to be copied. It is certainly safer to start with a bakery-café than to open a fine dining room and then add breakfast. In this case, each piece has fit so nicely upon the foundations that our dinner seemed, well, smooth as butter.
Robert Nadeau can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org.