TWIN WINNERS The braised short ribs — shredded beefy meat on shredded root vegetables — are splendid.
It's 24 degrees outside — are we going in this place to warm up? Maybe, since 28 degrees is named after what someone thinks is the ideal temperature for a martini. I cannot find the original reference or who figured out this precise figure Fahrenheit ("minus-2.22 Centigrade" would not make it as a restaurant name), but with so much bare alcohol, the drink has to be cold — hence James Bond's direction to shake, not stir, making the martini colder.
Always interested in truth in advertising, this writer brought along a couple of immersion thermometers, and sure enough, a "28-degree organic martini" ($10.50) was served at 28 degrees. Now this is a vodka drink (with Square One organic vodka), as are all four martinis on the menu. I tend to think of a martini as being about the resinous flavors of dry gin and lemon peel or olive. This vodka drink tasted like a high-quality sake, which is to say, like pure alcohol. It was certainly dry, and this column has opposed over-sweetened cocktails for a long time (although 19th-century martini precursors were made with sweet gin and sometimes sweet vermouth).
So that's the bar anecdote, and this handsome lounge/restaurant has been living more on its drinks than its food, but that turns out to be wrong. A fine young chef, William Kovel, snatched from the embers of the lamented Aujourd'hui, is consulting here, and his notions are executed by one Jonathan Sargent, who used to work at OM in Harvard Square, as good a small-plates lounge as there is. A foodie might go past something like their caramelized onion and asiago pizza ($12) where a group out for drinks would discover something sweet and savory in every bite of this well-made thin-cruster.
I'm not so happy about buying bread ($5), even if it is long diagonal slices of grilled baguette with a good olive tapenade and a decent white-bean spread. But I'm okay with Peruvian ceviche ($7), even as a small mound of seafood and rocotto peppers (the perfect slight bite), in a big plate of ice. Let's see . . . there's some squid, octopus, cooked shrimp — it's all terrific. Corn nuts are Peruvian, not usually part of their ceviche, but fun. And "crispy calamari" ($15) although ungrammatical and overpriced, is truly crisp at the table, with fried peppers, and fresh winter arugula chopped in between. A solid variation. Another cliché, beet salad ($9), has addictive candied walnuts added for a twist, along with tasty blue cheese, and the usual three colors of beets: red, golden, and that smudgy gray that happens to the beautiful striped chioggia beets when you boil them.
There are only five main courses, and we had four of them. The locavore pick was probably seared local scallops ($23), five terrific sea scallops, possibly too salty, over pureed winter vegetables and one of the nicer versions of the now-ubiquitous Brussels sprouts and bacon. For the carnivores, braised short ribs ($28) were served off the bone on a long plate, two piles each of shredded beefy meat on shredded root vegetables, over a potato puree, and topped with micro-green herbs. Every bite was splendid. Vegevores could have the wild mushroom risotto ($17), a good balance of creamy, cheesy, al dente, and toothsome oyster mushrooms and shitake, laced with truffle oil. Then there's salmon ($24), here allegedly "slow roasted," and certainly sitting on an over-salted mélange of vegetables including parsnips, carrots, waxy potatoes, and green beans.