SURF AND TURF: Lamb sticks (left) are nicely flavored and come on citrus-rosemary skewers, while
shrimp stix are served on coconut-lime skewers with mango dip.
Once again, the latest thing is the oldest thing. Last year it was cooking on rocks. Now it’s cooking on sticks. Almost everything at STIX is shaped like a stick, impaled on a skewer, or served with a stick of something as a decoration. The only thing they missed was setting the table with chopsticks, or playing that maddening “Chopsticks” tune or the band Styx in the background. (Alternative rock will have to do.) The décor, on the other hand, is all zigzags, as you might expect from the owners of the funhouse-design 33 Restaurant & Lounge next door. It would be distracting if the restaurant weren’t kept fairly dark. When they got to determining the staff dress code, they wisely stuck with basic black.
|Stix Restaurant & Lounge | 35 Stanhope Street, Boston | Open Mon–Sat, 5:30 pm–1 am | AE, DC, DI, MC, VI | Full bar | Valet parking, $16 | Access up one step from sidewalk level | 617.456.7849|
Food starts with a basket of thin cheese breadsticks, of course, with which one attacks a near-liquid dip of flavored mascarpone cheese. The menu is divided into “signature plates,” which are all small plates of three skewered items ($9), plus “small plates” ($9), “large plates” ($19), and “sides” ($8). Desserts are also mostly a single price ($9).
The skewers (stix) are infused with flavor oils, and then there’s an accompanying dip, but the only one that really worked for me was a special on chicken with pepper sauce ($9), in which the pepper and a light note of curry were in the sticks, and the dip was soothing mango purée. Stix are served on rectangular plates with an arugula salad, so they work as bar bites. Vegetable stix are on garlic-herb skewers, but all I tasted was the garlic-wine-sherry-reduction dip on nice little kebabs of mushroom, yellow squash, roasted pepper, and cooked carrot. Shrimp stix are supposedly served on Thai coconut-lime skewers, but the flavor of each was the sum of a fried shrimp and the mango dip. (In fact, I couldn’t taste any of the other stick treatments in the food.) My second favorite was lamb stix, allegedly on citrus-rosemary skewers. The lamb itself was nicely flavored and the accompanying cucumber raita dip was first-rate. In general, though, most of these skewers would be better if the protein itself was marinated and then grilled on a wood fire.
Moving up to the large plates, the Andean hangar steak was excellent, with a chimichurri-type green-sauce marinade and garnishes of waxy fingerling potatoes and exquisite caramelized shallots. I also thought a lot of the seared diver scallops served with similar fingerling potatoes and corn slightly pickled in a chili-vinegar sauce. The special vegetarian entrée was penne pasta with a lot of chew — chef Thomas Eco grew up in New York’s Little Italy — and a sauce of creamed mushrooms. With some more corn, Brussels sprouts, and a shooter of sweet “carrot fondue” topped with a prune, this provided lots of fun things to eat. Slow-roasted salmon was good but uninspired; the orange-braised endive with it simply tasted like greens. A side of braised mushrooms was wine-flavored and generous.
The wine list at STIX is medium length and marked up; it doesn’t list vintages. A glass of Graf Koenigsegg “Velt.1” gruner veltliner ($8/glass; $32/bottle) was a very well put together pinot grigio from Austria. Concha y Toro’s Casillero del Diablo “Reserve” carmenere ($8/$32) is my favorite bargain example of this Chilean red, and it showed well with STIX food. Five Rivers pinot noir ($9/$36) had some oak and was perhaps too subtle for spiced food. Cappuccino ($4) and decaf ($3) were excellent.
Warm chocolate fondant is your basic flourless chocolate cake, here accompanied by a delectable smoothie involving cherry liqueur and a hint of cocoa. Crème brûlée is not unusual, but the coconut macaroons with it were exceptionally good. My favorite dessert, through, was gingerbread cheesecake ($9) with pomegranate sauce. The spice makes sense of the cheesecake, and the sauce makes exquisite sense. The only failed experiment among the desserts was the kaffir-lime panna cotta. I’ve loved the citronella flavor of kaffir lime (usually leaves) when it’s been infused in several recent dishes, but this was so strong it was resinous. A shooter of basil seeds on the side looked like frogs’ eggs (basil seeds swell up in water to make something like bubble tea) but had little flavor despite the interesting texture.
We also had a complimentary sample of the chocolate-truffle tree ($7 for one; $13 for two), which brings various homemade truffles on long white paper sticks that stick out of a glass brick with holes. The ones we tasted were outstanding, so this is one item on a stick that must be tried.
STIX is obviously something of a reviewer’s paradox. Eliminate all the novelties (basically by skipping the stix) and you have a competent, moderately priced bistro near Copley and Park Squares. But the novelties are what the restaurant is named for and is promoting. That said, the service is good and the room is very handsome, though three muted TVs showing sports may be too many. If you’re there primarily for drinking, the stix are the snacks to have, especially with beer or cocktails. If you had planned to go somewhere else for after-dinner drinks, you might want to stay put for the large plates and desserts.
Robert Nadeau can be reached at RobtNadeau@aol.com.