Review: Stoddard's Fine Food and Ale

Boston's gastropub world has a new champ
By ROBERT NADEAU  |  July 5, 2010
4.0 4.0 Stars

Getting back to that chicken pie, it had an excellent crust, but distinctively a pie crust, not the puff-pastry crust that buries competing pies about the gastropub world of Boston. More nostalgia comes with the "duo of Berkshire pork" ($23) a heritage breed that restores real pork-chop flavor to the boneless medallions on half the plate, and a mild home-smoked ham effect shredded in with white grits. The vegetable garnish is a little sautée of wild mushrooms and fresh green fava beans.

Ballotine of Vermont rabbit ($24) is a kind of savory sausage of rabbit leg meat stuffed with herbed rabbit mousse, and covered with a house-made prosciutto that gets as caramelized as the skin of a nicely roasted chicken. While rabbit doesn't exactly taste like the chicken, the profile of crisped skin, tender meat, and stuffing is similar. The garnishes on this are sautéed nettles (my favorite wild spring green), prunes, and crunchy chunks of salsify (which I would cook longer for more flavor).

Equally stunning is the skillet-roasted cod ($23), a fine chunk of white fish in big sweet flakes over all kinds of brilliant things: balls of potato, a green fennel-flavored puree, a pipperade of gently sautéed onion, red and green pepper strips, and slivers of country ham.

Our drinks were a Tanqueray gin and tonic ($10), a drink a little later than Jerry Thomas, but here made strong for a proper balance of herbal and bitter flavors; and a Moscow Mule ($9), a 1940s invention, here in full historical dress of a chilled copper cup, vodka, and house-made ginger beer.

To the casks, then, for Clown Shoes "black IPA" ($10), which sounds hopelessly exotic but is actually brewed in state (Ipswich) as a kind of very hoppy porter or dry stout. At seven-percent alcohol and not much carbonation, it goes down well with food, but might be too bitter for one's first move up from Bud Light. A glass of Conn Creek cabernet sauvignon ($13) had the full cabernet aroma of bramble fruits strewn over vegetative richness, and a palate to follow all that. But I didn't like the lack of posted vintage years on the wine list, and the lack of posted prices on the beer and cocktail lists, nor the actual prices. This is a place for a moderate dinner, but be careful what you drink.

Desserts are there, but only two: a chocolate pavé ($7) that was solid without distinction, and a rosemary rhubarb panna cotta ($5) that was light and flavorful, but far more rhubarb than rosemary.

Service on an early weeknight was perhaps compromised by a couple of large reserved tables — an odd situation in a restaurant that does not admit to taking reservations, but does have a functions department. We had some long pauses that reminded me of Henny Youngman's advice — probably as old as some classic cocktail recipes — always to look for a table next to a waiter. Nevertheless, I am going to all four stars despite pricey drinks and paltry dessert options because, in the year of gastropubs, this one has the food part nailed and the pub side right up there.

Robert Nadeau can be reached at robtnadeau@aol.com.

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