THE MAIN EVENT: Entrées, such as the skirt steak and Cornish hen, are better bets at Vintage.
The first thing went wrong before I even arrived. One of my guests ordered a gin and tonic ($8) and had to send it back twice. “There wasn’t any tonic,” he said. “It came out of a soda siphon.” Since this column doesn’t run on hearsay, I ordered another; sure enough, the bitter flavor of quinine wasn’t evident. There are two possible explanations, both troubling: a screwed-up soda siphon watered down an actual tonic mix, or a Boston-born bartender believes all soda is “tonic,” and used straight seltzer, instead.
|Vintage Lounge | 617.482.1900 | 72 Broad Street, Boston | Open Mon–Fri, 11 am–3 pm And 5–11 pm; Sat, 5–11 pm; and Sun, 9 am–3 pm and 5–11 pm | AE, DC, DI, MC, VI | Full bar | Valet parking behind restaurant on Well Street, $8 | Sidewalk-level access|
The breadbasket was problem number two: cracker breads are fun, but like baguette toasts, they don’t soak up any sauces. They’re workable as carriers for pâté, not for the smear of olive oil and balsamic vinegar we were given.
Our appetizers were good though undistinguished, and the salt began to mount. Mussels Provençal ($11) were nice, plump shellfish, with a garlicky wine sauce that was salty enough to float eggs. A duck spring roll ($10) is a passable fusion idea, fried without too much grease. It’s accompanied by grapefruit slices and an arugula salad . . . with an over-salted dressing. Speck salad ($11) is based on dried, cured bacon, so of course that was saline, too — when it wasn’t wonderfully smoky or, in part of one bite, a little bit rancid. NaCl levels kept coming on the pea-tendril side salad.
“Crispy Fried Calamari” ($10), a “Vintage Lounge House Specialty,” had another over-seasoning problem: too much hot pepper in the pink mayonnaise sauce. It could have been crisper. Still, it gets points for the Kalamata olives.
Entrées were better, which is unusual in a place with so much emphasis on the bar side. The pick is probably the skirt steak ($27), a superlative piece of meat with roasted fingerling potatoes (the waxy kind) tossed with scallions. I also liked the free-range Cornish hen ($23) served with “wild black rice” (as if there were red or blue wild rice) and more of the pea tendrils. The hen came as two boned Statler breasts and one leg quarter. The meat was moist, the rice was correctly done, and the same vegetable worked in this context. Bluefin tuna ($26) is seared in some seasoning, sliced, and presented over whipped parsnips with some more greens. Since pea tendrils were obviously the vegetable of the night, we ordered the lobster ravioli ($33), which earned us a few baby bok choy. This isn’t the usual lobster ravioli. Rather, the meat of a whole one-and-a-quarter-pound lobster that’s been cut up and stuffed into thinner-than-lasagna pasta turnovers. A thicker pasta would give this dish more contrast, yet many will prefer this style of noodle-wrapped lazy lobster, with a beurre-blanc sauce that could be more citric (or it could be a richer hollandaise).
As befits a restaurant named “Vintage,” there’s a long wine list, with 30 wines by the glass. All of the entrées come with a suggested pairing, which we took advantage of, ordering the recommended 2006 Trinchero Family pinot noir ($10 glass /$42 bottle) with the Cornish hen. It was solid, with plenty of fruit and even a little structure. As often happens at wine festivals, the wine at Vintage is actually more exciting than the food. Decaf coffee ($3) is Illy, a top-shelf brand, but was apparently left on the warmer too long and tasted burnt. Teas ($3) are served as a metal pot of hot water with a tray of choices. Choose quickly and it will brew up decently.
You’ll either want to skip dessert altogether or use this course to pig out. Why the weird advice? I was a little concerned that we weren’t instructed to order in advance the chocolate soufflé ($10) — that’s because it was served warm and, well, uh, kinda sorta unbaked. On the other hand, raisin brioche bread pudding ($8) had no custard and no sauce, so it was dry and a little burnt on the edges. The unbaked soufflé was an excellent sauce for the dried-out bread pudding, however, making the pair a winning dessert for gluttons. Dieting couples splitting one or the other would miss out.
Vintage Lounge may not always deliver the food of an expensive downtown restaurant. Certainly, it has the look: linen tablecloths, an unusual flatware pattern, yellow and gold curtains, and lots of windows. Although my dinner was not entirely successful, and you may have to bring your own bottle of quinine tonic, there’s quite a lot to make this a useful destination in a fringe neighborhood: late hours, lunch, and entertainment in the bar. Start with the wine and order simple food (or both desserts), and it could be okay.
Robert Nadeau can be reached atRobtNadeau@aol.com.