BUDGET BISTRO: Center-cut pork chops and pasta Bolognese top the menu choices at Red
The pitch for Red Sky is that it’s nicer, more upscale, and appeals to a slightly older crowd than the other nightspots around Faneuil Hall. Every bit of that is true, but remember: the competition is catering to the fake-ID demographic. That said, some nice dishes and pleasant moments at Red Sky (and its very moderate price point) are not to be compared with the same in a more reasonable neighborhood. But if you must dine near Quincy Market — and if the North End has been destroyed by an earthquake — you can do so, well, at Red Sky, with a few careful selections.
Red Sky | 16-18 North Street, Boston | Open daily, 11:30 am–midnight; bar open until 2 am | AE, DI, MC, VI | Full bar | Validated parking in Haymarket garage | Sidewalk-level access | 617.742.3333
The menu has some of what you might expect, and some beyond that. One characteristic is that most dishes are in their latest transmutations, and therefore perhaps unrecognizable to older members of a party. If you remember when nachos were individual canapés, each nicely laid out on a triangle of corn tostada, for instance, you may be quite surprised by Red Sky’s waffle-fry nachos ($9.50), which have the usual Mexican stuff heaped onto a random pile of waffle-fried potatoes. Of course, if you were born after about 1980, that’s what nachos always looked like. In any case, the substitution of a purer starch for the corn tostados is sort of fun. Spinach-and-artichoke dip ($8.50) now tastes mostly of cheese, and is scooped up with pita chips. Cobb salad ($11) used to consist of cubed things, but this one has strips of grilled chicken, vegetables, avocado, egg, and so on. It’s tasty and wholesome, and is almost like Cobb salad. A tomato-and-mozzarella salad ($9.50) was done well, with cress and fresh mozzarella (though I have to say that other restaurants have been using better tomatoes this month).
As for the fresh lobster pizza ($15), the switches on Lydia Shire’s old invention just don’t work. The thin crust is excellent and the lobster meat is juicy, but the cheese never melts, and the tomato pieces just sit there. Jerk-chicken quesadilla ($10), a would-be Mexi-Jamaican fusion, is just a mess of an idea. The chicken is peppery, but lacks the smoke-and-allspice kick of real jerk, and detracts from the cheese-starch taste of a quesadilla. Steak-tip salad ($12) has good marinated steak tips, but underneath is a cooked vegetable stew wilting up the greens — a bad idea.
The pasta Bolognese ($15) is actually a dish someone from Bologna might recognize. The fettuccine are as al dente as they might be in Italy, and the sauce has bits of various meats. This dish might have been served hotter, but you wouldn’t do better in the North End, and often would fall short. I was all the more impressed because two other pasta dishes, chicken-and-broccoli ziti ($14) and Cajun seafood pasta ($20), were travesties of their names — but made for good eating nonetheless. The ziti came in a garlic-cream sauce with morsels of chicken, and was just delicious. The Cajun seafood was in an especially good seafood sauce, perhaps using some of the mussel liquid. The mussels were seasonably small but fresh, and the scallops and shrimp were excellent. But the penne were fully cooked, and the only Cajun flavor was hot pepper. Perhaps it’s just as well.
My other great pick was the grilled center-cut pork chops ($17). It was superior pork, not overdone, with just enough blue-cheese sauce, some nice haricot green beans, and a purée of sweet potato that wasn’t sweetened — just the way I like it. This is bistro fare on a budget. The menu is also nicely hedged with attractive “sandwiches.” The fish sandwich ($11) was perfectly fried fish on a bun, and wanted only fries instead of a cold orzo salad. Our mistake — we could have ordered them. The grilled-vegetable-and-hummus wrap ($8.50) was not too busy, even in a sun-dried-tomato tortilla, but it did get a little soggy, and again we switched the fries to grilled asparagus ($4/à la carte), which were perfectly good though not very grilled.
Like Mission Bar, which I reviewed this past week, this is yet another bar that features beers in the right glasses: the tulip for Stella Artois ($5.24) and the Magners cider cup — well, at least it’s Irish — for Guinness ($5.24). Both drafts were impeccable.
Desserts were good but not great, with the nod going to the chocolate lava cake ($8), perhaps because it didn’t vary a bit from the intense-chocolate standard. I also liked the Key lime pie ($8), here re-imagined as a cylinder of frozen mousse as thick as cheesecake, but refreshingly tart. Cheesecake with walnuts ($8) was nothing special. And a slice of carrot cake ($8) was mild, but at least it wasn’t 12 times too large. A white-chocolate raspberry truffle ($8) was so pretty that I suspect it was purchased from somewhere else, but this didn’t stop me from eating every bit on a hot night.