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Highland Kitchen

Won’t you be our neighbor?
By ROBERT NADEAU  |  June 18, 2008
3.0 3.0 Stars
SMOKED BLUEFISH CAKES Like meaty crab cakes, served with peppery mayonnaise dressing.

Highland Kitchen | 617.625.1131 | 150 Highland Avenue, Somerville | Open Sun, 11 am–1 am, and Tues–Sat, 5 pm–1 am | AE, MC, VI | Full bar | No valet parking | Street-level access
At the Green Street Grill, chef Mark Romano stepped into the very large sandals of John Levins and his spicy Caribbean menu. Romano’s next menu, for the relaunched and renamed Green Street, was a complete (and rather successful) shift to locavore gastro-pub. So when I heard he was opening his own place in Somerville, I was both curious and interested. Now, in his own restaurant in a quiet stretch of Somerville, he seems to have combined the best of all his experiences to turn out a menu that goes from diner to bistro without missing a world beat. There’s some pretty good American roots music on the jukebox, too, but the restaurant is already so popular that on two weeknights I could hear very little of the music over the din of happy diners.

Food starts with sourdough bread and sweet butter. Smoked bluefish cakes ($8.95) were on the Caribbean menu at Green Street Grill, though I don’t think bluefish migrate south of the Carolinas. Here they’re like meaty crab cakes, and served with peppery mayonnaise dressing. Rhode Island–style fried calamari ($7.95) have red and green (not-too-hot) hot peppers fried right in. The squid are sweet, the frying is fresh and crisp, and the accompanying dip is a fiery romesco. A special appetizer platter featured two diver sea scallops ($10.95) on top of a terrific hash of chopped artichoke and potatoes, with a tapenade of sun-dried tomatoes on top. I loved the hash but didn’t love the tapenade, so I didn’t eat that part.

You could also just have one of the inexpensive little plates of bar snacks, such as marinated olives ($3.95), which gave us four kinds marinated in lots of garlic and bay leaves.

A cup of Texas chili ($4/cup; $6/bowl) was heaped with cheese, chopped scallion, sour cream, and a wedge of excellent corn bread. Underneath all that was some piquant no-bean chili, full of cubed and chopped meat. (The rule about chili is that mine is the best in the world, and yours is, well, not the best in the world. But I’ll eat this.) For a vegan appetizer, you could have one of the vegetable side dishes, such as broccoli rabe ($3), sautéed to bittersweet with lemon and garlic. Or you could have the vegan soup of the day ($3/cup; $5/bowl), which on my second visit was cream of broccoli rabe. (I guess I was the only person who ordered it as a side vegetable the night before.) It was even better as a soup, the cream base cutting some of the bitterness and leaving a bowl of light-green goodness.

My favorite main dish was flat-iron steak ($18.95). This is a new way to cut shoulder meat into a few remarkably tender and flavorful steaks. Romano does this one au poivre, though the pepper is actually a distraction for those who don’t love the spice. Fried potatoes are phenomenal; the other garnish is a heap of cress. Scrape the gravy off the steak and onto the French fries, and it beats Montreal poutine!

“Spiced coconut curried goat stew” ($18.95) is another nod to Green Street Grill, though rather mildly spiced. There’s a sneaky heat, but not a distinctive Caribbean curry, and with no bones, you could easily mistake it for beef-brisket pot roast of exceptional richness. A few chunks of carrot and sweet potato bring you back to stew, and slices of fried sweet plantain are yummy. But while Thai jasmine rice is delicious, it isn’t the oily Caribbean rice that goes best with this dish.

Fish and chips ($15.95) showed a rare ability to get both well-fried fish and French fries out of the same kitchen. It may have helped that they used the thicker, British-type batter on the fish — which I’m guessing was local pollock. The offer of malt vinegar (the traditional UK condiment) made it even better. Cole slaw was also fresh and nicely done.

The only entrée I wouldn’t return for was a special of roast bluefish and clams ($19.95). The bluefish was beautifully cooked but a little iffy in some bites; likewise the littlenecks. I ate both without consequences, but the server would have to do a lot of convincing for me to try it again. On the other hand, if the next fish special has roast potatoes and green beans like those served with this dish, I might be back on board.

The wine list has many international bottles and some fair values, though a glass of Legado Muñoz merlot-tempranillo blend ($9) was thin and hot, suggesting perhaps a bottle opened the previous night. A draught of Berkshire Brewing Company Lost Sailor IPA ($5) reminded me why you should always drink local microbrews. This ale manages to get all the possible hop aromas — flowery, spicy — without a too-bitter flavor. Decaf ($2.50) was as fresh and lively as the wine was not.

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Related: Banq Restaurant + Bar, The Mission Bar + Grill, Cafeteria, More more >
  Topics: Restaurant Reviews , Chocolate, Culture and Lifestyle, Desserts,  More more >
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