Geoffrey’s Café

Scores with low prices and upscale comfort food
Rating: 3.0 stars
July 2, 2007 6:12:34 PM

Geoffrey’s café | 4257 Washington Street, Roslindale | Open Mon–Fri, 4 pm–midnight; and Sat & Sun, 10 am–midnight | AE, DI, MC, VI | Full bar | No valet parking | Street-level access | 617.325.1000
I was asked recently why all the new restaurants are so expensive. They’re not, I said, and pointed to Brownstone, which maintains reasonable prices despite its location on the Back Bay and South End dividing line. But I hadn’t yet been to Geoffrey’s, an inexpensive bistro that had flitted among three locations in those same two nabes, before it left town. Now, after a two-year hiatus, it’s returned, this time in the new hot spot of Roslindale Square (then again, perhaps it’s not such a hot spot, since this place has opened in one of the larger restaurant spaces, formerly Salute). Geoffrey’s has the good old mix of low prices and upscale comfort food, so even if there are weaknesses and shortcuts, it makes for a good night out and redeems all with enormous desserts.

Geoffrey’s new space is large but odd, with a long indoor dining room and high café windows that open to a patio. (So far, though, the windows have remained shuttered in favor of that old summer standby: AC.) On a warm night, I preferred one of the many outdoor tables to the inside, which was too cold and too loud. That said, the whole restaurant boasts something of a bar scene, though I personally did not admire the mixology. The décor inside is wine-colored dark purple with so many little mirrors glued to it that the walls seem like screens.

As for the food, it’s pretty much all good. There doesn’t seem to be a breadbasket, but that’s just as well with large portions. The surprising star of our appetizers was shrimp cakes ($8.95). I used to think that crab cakes offered more seafood flavor in the form of a composed patty, but that view fails to take into account the crunchy texture of chopped shrimp and the flavor that can be emphasized by the right herbs. Here, you get three shrimp cakes and an exciting hotted-up mayonnaise in which to dip them. Meanwhile, a grilled sausage appetizer ($5.95) features meaty homemade sausages from the Greek butcher shop next door. And the obligatory fried calamari ($7.95) is done well, with a better dip — sweet and peppery Thai “squid sauce” — than what usually accompanies this dish; fried rings of banana pepper add another jolt of spice.

If you must have the trendy wasabi-crusted pan-seared ahi tuna ($9.95), you’ll find it on the menu. Here, though, the wasabi is served on the side and the rare tuna slices are crusted with sesame seeds. As the old song says, “I like it like that.” You probably will too. Another good choice is the petite dinner salad ($3.95), with escarole, onions, and tomato. The only sub-par appetizer I tried was the “signature” cream of tomato soup ($2.75/cup; $3.25/bowl), and only because of its curdled and frothy appearance. I’d rather a creamier and less herbal soup, like Campbell’s.

Main dishes are a similar mix of predictable and above-average fare, with points going to the “old fashioned meatloaf” ($9.95). There’s no gravy, but the dish comes with a nice tomato glaze browned at the corners. The portion is almost the size of a building brick. And if that’s not enough for you, it also comes with a big scoop of skins-in mashed potatoes and grilled slices of zucchini. On the other end of the portion spectrum is the double pork chop ($14.95), which is not very thick and served on the bone, with the meat pushed up to make a handle. Fret not, big eaters: it comes with excellent mashed sweet potatoes that aren’t overly sweet, as well as a nice sauté of Vidalia onions and more grilled zucchini.

Dr. Atkins in the house? “John’s steak tip salad” ($10.95) is right out of the book, and the marinated steak tips are competitive with any in town. The salad is about the size of three of those petite dinner salads, but dressed with a thick, sweet, balsamic concoction. Chicken-and-herb dumplings ($9.95) are also good, except the dumplings are a little heavy and crumbly, like Mom’s not-her-best matzoh balls. And the herbs are nondescript. But there’s joy in a bowl of slightly starchy broth and plenty of chicken-breast meat with overcooked carrots and celery — that’s comfort food, Jack.

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