The wine list is lively and interesting, but the featured wines are rather expensive “second labels” of West Coast vintners. In the case of our glass of 2005 O’Reilly’s Pinot Noir ($8/glass; $32/bottle), this was not a winning strategy. I happen to have visited Oregon wineries this summer, and found that the promising pinot noirs that have developed there, mostly in the past 10 years, are so wildly overbought and overpriced that second-label wines are as soft and devoid of character as dating-bar merlot. The really good ones are often sold only as futures at the winery, and it’s hard to find even a notable bottle at less than $25 retail in Oregon. The Beacon Street Tavern didn’t even give this one a chance: it served an $8 wine in a 10-cent glass, a dishwasher-safe piece of stemware too small to contain both the wine and any aroma it might have developed.
What do I miss from the Washington Square Tavern? Primarily the variety of composed dishes on small plates, as well as the emphasis on the wood-fired oven. With a simplified menu served in a larger space, I take more notice of how few foods are presented with their natural flavors — pretty much only the halibut, and that after removing the salty crust. Everything else is marinated, smoky, very peppery, rather salty, maybe too garlicky (if that is possible), or otherwise more seasoned than not. It’s not wrong on the face of it, but a consistent un-blandness can be tiresome. And it must be said that this is the kind of food that really goes well with beer — this is a tavern, after all.
As at the Washington Square location, this tavern has no desserts. But once again, there is a good bakery nearby, so this is no disaster. The winning formula apparently includes the design, which is crucially dark. Repeat after me: “A tavern is always dark.” Well, not on summer evenings, but soon enough. Candles on the tables don’t give off much light either. The walls are dark-red, with some abstract paintings in brown and white, and much of the other detail is black. The floor, as at the old place, has quasi-Oriental carpets, which are accented by quasi-antique lamps.
Seating is at varied levels, from a long bar to the fashionably high table long enough for a board meeting, down to ordinary café tables. This makes a friendly tavern out of an over-large and hitherto difficult restaurant space.
The background music runs to blues and soul, and the crowd is young, but not exclusively so. Early on a weeknight, there were couples with babies taking advantage of the extensive outdoor seating. The inside gets loud, and it will only get louder when the outside crowd has to come indoors in cold weather.
A real strength for the Beacon Street Tavern is service, which is both quick out of the kitchen — despite the extra demands of outdoor seating — and friendly and helpful at the table. An oddity is that they refuse to sell take-out. The rationale given is that the chef doesn’t want people to judge his food after it travels. But they will pack up your leftovers for tomorrow’s lunch.
Beacon Street Tavern, 1032 Beacon Street, Brookline | daily, 5–11 pm | AE, MC, VI | full bar | no valet parking | sidewalk-level access | 617.713.2700
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Robert Nadeau: RobtNadeau@aol.com