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The Citizen Public House & Oyster Bar

Fenway gastropub maxes out minimalism
By ROBERT NADEAU  |  December 15, 2010
3.0 3.0 Stars

DUCK AND COVET Confit-duck-and-smoked-sausage cassoulet is an excellent take on this winter dish.

This whole minimalism thing is not as simple as it looks, and Citizen Public House & Oyster Bar is proof.

First, a little history: the owners of the Citizen were among the first to shorten menus and lowball expectations with the Franklin Café, a basic-black South End storefront serving turkey meatloaf until all hours, and no desserts. Pretty soon, chefs from the piled-up-plates restaurants were over at the Franklin after work, and it wasn't long before every big-name chef seemed to be starting up a no-name 10-to-15-table second restaurant that didn't take reservations.

And in the wake of this minimalism trend came the gastropubs, which lately seem to be springing up every five minutes. On their menus are things you hope will taste like chicken, and, if you order actual chicken, you're deluged with information about where the chicken grew up and went to graduate school and exactly which roads it crossed to get to your plate. The gastropub bar program approaches the complexity of string theory. Used to be, really tough pub trivia had to do with arcane sports stats or movie lore. These days, you get stumpers like whether the absinthe wash in a Sazerac goes in before or after the ice. And such dinner discussion inevitably proceeds over a small plate of porcine body parts hitherto known only to certain older men in Cajun country and the Southern provinces of China.

For the Franklin Café team, putting their new gastropub into the West Fenway (did I mention that the most inventive new restaurants in the city are now lining up within a few blocks of the oldest active Major League baseball stadium in the United States?) posed a whole series of complicated questions. They've ported over their familiar Café color scheme: blacker than a beatnik's beret. But the menu? The only Franklin fave I recognized here was fish chowder ($8). But if you're in the mood for pig's-trotter schnitzel ($11), you've come to the right place. Bar conversation? They have 75 brands of whiskey, plus a whole wall of blackboard just to list brands of spirits. They also gave up on purism and now stock as many as three desserts.

Minimalism just ain't what it used to be.

In fact, ordering weird pig parts ain't even what that used to be. This trotter schnitzel is all boned and ground up into a fried flat patty easier to eat than veal scaloppine — which means you can check trotter off your bucket list and barely take the point off your pencil doing so. Tucking into Citizen's rosemary-whipped lardo ($5) is not like eating strips of cured lard in Northern Italy — it's like spreading whipped butter on toast.

I had my doubts about the oyster-house part. But a quick sampling of one Gigamoto ($2), one Buzzard's Bay ($2), and one Pemmaquid ($2) found them all impeccably fresh and distinctive, with the nod to the most local over the West Coast and Maine mollusks. A single cocktail shrimp ($2) was likewise as fresh as they come — and this on a Sunday night.

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