Barlow’s Restaurant

When in doubt, ask for a second opinion
By ROBERT NADEAU  |  March 31, 2010
3.0 3.0 Stars

4001_barlows_main
FOWL BATTLE Whereas the Globe said the walnut-stuffed chicken “lacks flavor,” our critic says it is “gooey, good eating.”

Barlow’s Restaurant | 21 A Street, South Boston | 617.338.2142 | Open Sunday, 10 am–3 pm and 5–10 pm; Monday–Wednesday, 11 am–3 pm and 5–10 pm; and Thursday–Saturday, 11 am–3 pm and 5–11 pm | AE, DI, MC, VI | No valet parking; $3 validated parking at Binney Street lot weekdays after 4 pm and weekends | Sidewalk-level access via elevator on a street side
It’s not unusual for this column to have a different opinion of restaurants than the column in the Boston Globe — I favor a flatter bell curve. But having dined at Barlow’s the night before the Globe’s one-star review came out, I was surprised by how differently we regarded many of the same points and dishes.

While it is possible that some spy leaked the leading daily’s review in advance, and that the restaurant fixed some dishes, it is unlikely that Barlow’s was able to change its noise level, which the Globe described as “conversation easy.” In my experience, the background music was loud enough to rattle one’s teeth — and that was before a crowd came into this duplex space with polished wood floors and bare brick walls. They made so much noise you could hardly keep mashed potatoes on your fork. Conversation was easy only if both parties were fluent in American Sign Language, and wearing white gloves against a black background.

Food-wise, I also disagreed with the Globe’s reviewer, who largely disliked what was served on the plates. We began with long slices of focaccia with an herbed-up olive oil that otherwise lacked distinction. But all our appetizers were enjoyable, and the PEI mussels ($11) were extraordinary. The shellfish were plump and plentiful, with intriguing shreds of fresh basil, and the fennel-broth was so delicious I suspect a little sugar had been added. We mopped up every drop with two accompanying toasts, spoons, and even mussel shells pressed into service. Two meaty Maine lump crab cakes ($12) had just enough cake to hold them together. Risotto arancini ($9) were so loaded with cheese and chicken sausage as to make them more like ravioli than rice balls. Add the sides of tomato sauce and arugula, and it could make an excellent dinner for some people.

For others, a better choice might be the walnut-stuffed chicken ($18), a Statler cut — that’s the boned breast with the single wing segment sticking up — with a creamy, cheesey walnut stuffing wrapped up in chicken that is fried in batter that may have had a little more cheese in it. I thought this was gooey, good eating, with soft pillows of gnocchi. The Globe said the “Chicken lacks flavor. . . . It comes with walnut stuffing and house-made gnocchi, gummy carbo-bombs.” Well, bomb me some more.

Steak au poivre ($25), not a dish I usually order, is a two-inch sirloin strip with a balance of cracked-pepper coating that brings out the beefy flavor, rare as ordered. I liked the mashed potatoes, and loved the halved Brussels sprouts with a bit of sweet-sour sauce. Said the Globe: “Sirloin au poivre looks perfectly cooked, but where is the flavor? The meat has an odd sourness, as if from lemon juice, and its texture is mealy . . . There’s not much in the way of pepper, either.”

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