Archive for category Romantic Dining
We first visited The Black Whale on New Bedford’s charming state pier shortly after they opened in 2014. We were horrified. Mind-boggling acoustics, insufficiently trained staff, lackluster food — just a bad all around experience.
Enormous improvements have been made since then, and we highly recommend this restaurant now. And we have a secret to share: there is no better example of lunch being a better value than dinner. At night, The Black Whale is busy and pricey. Lunchtime prices are significantly less than the same dishes on the dinner menu. If they’re a correspondingly larger size at night, you’re going to need a bigger boat.
You know how if you go to an ethnic restaurant and there are people of that ethnicity dining there, you feel more confident in the food? Well, we’ve found after a handful of visits that this seafood restaurant is patronized by real live fishermen, and that makes ordering seafood dishes a no-brainer. That, and the fact that you park among fishing boats.
We sat at the bar, of course, on a recent Wednesday afternoon. This is one of those bars that’s perfectly suited for dining, with the bar top and stools at comfortable heights, and plenty of depth to spread out. Our attentive bartender, Zachary, brought us a bottle of Chasing Lions Cabernet ($39) and the complimentary cone of toasted bread and crackers alongside their delicious codfish dip.
Gina started with a house salad ($9.99), an enormous plate of pristine red and green lettuce with cucumber, tomato, and a scattering of sunflower seeds, with a lightly sprinkled citrus vinaigrette. It was perfectly simple and plenty for two.
The Big Dog ordered a bowl of the soup of the day ($6.99), a thick and zesty tomato soup garnished with goat cheese and chunky croutons. We liked it a lot.
For her main course, Gina ordered the pan roasted monkfish, described as being served with littlenecks, chourico, white beans, escarole, and white wine garlic butter, and topped with two grilled slices of rustic bread. At lunch, this dish is $12.99, and an enormous amount of very good food. At dinner, it’s $24.99, and probably still worth every penny. There was a little grittiness to it the sauce, which might have been from what we suspected as spinach rather than escarole, or maybe from the half dozen sweet clams. Gina regretted polishing off the bread with the cod dip earlier, because the somewhat spicy sauce was outstanding despite the grit.
The Big Dog selected linguine and clams ($14.99 – five bucks more at night), which also came with six clams. He found them to be a tad overcooked and chewy.
As mentioned, on our previous lunch visits, we’ve always noticed fishing professionals among those at the bar. On this particular stop, we saw one who literally wore an actual eye patch, and another was talking about bridal gowns with what appeared to be a granddaughter or niece. A lot of these guys come in to The Black Whale with hoodies and boots, but most of us would feel more comfortable there dressed a notch or two above that. In the summer, the restaurant offers a nice tented outdoor space looking out over the fishing boats docked a few feet away.
The Black Whale
106 Pier 3, New Bedford
We found ourselves in Mashpee on a wicked hot weekday afternoon, and we were wicked hungry. We were skeptical of Wicked Restaurant’s strip mall setting and silly name, but we were rewarded with an ultra-cool atmosphere and very good food composed of extraordinary ingredients.
We sat at the bar, as we almost invariably do, and our tender was a gentleman whom your tab will identify as “Rager” and who looks and acts so much like Gina’s brother that we were a little creeped out. His real name is Kevin, and he’s been with the restaurant since its opening a decade ago, he said. By the end of lunch, we were swapping restaurant and pub suggestions with him and other patrons as if we were regulars.
But this is not a neighborhood bar. This is the kind of place at which serious, international Mashpee Commons shoppers and serious golfers refuel. The silly name, and the silly names for some menu items, is inconsistent with the sleek vibe.
The Big Dog started with an appetizer of “wicked meatballs” ($7.50), alongside a vodka and soda made with Green Mountain Lemon Vodka, an organic offering from a Vermont craft distillery ($8.50). He enjoyed both and took a photo of the vodka label so we could track it down at our local retailer.
Gina started with a Nero D’Avola ($11.50 for a 9-ounce pour) and a fork, to assist with the meatballs. We agreed they were dense but delicious, and particularly liked the tomato sauce in which they floated. Two young men seated near us at the bar ordered the same dish immediately upon getting a whiff.
Gina’s entree was a special: caesar salad with steak ($17). The flavorful, abundant, and properly medium cooked steak tips were served over fresh romaine and tossed with roasted red peppers, black olives, and grated parmesan. Two triangles of flatbread — think naked pizza — garnished the dish, and the whole thing was topped with house-made croutons and a light dressing that we think contained a welcome hint of anchovy. The combination was excellent.
The Big Dog ordered the “Chubby Sicilian” pizza ($19 for a “full size”). We’re not sure how big the pizza was, but it was so loaded up that it could likely feed four. Toppings included house-made sweet Italian sausage, sliced meatballs, pepperoni, spinach-ricotta, marinara sauce, and mozzarella over baked penne pasta. On a pizza. This is one pizza. With penne. It was really good for lunch, and excellent the next morning reheated for breakfast.
Here’s how the pizza section of the lunch menu is introduced: “Our pizza dough is made with Non GMO Italian Caputo Flour, purified water, and natural wild yeast baked in a 600 degree stone hearth oven. Wicked pizzas are carefully designed by our chefs; we ask you to avoid the temptation of substitutions in order to experience the pizzas as the chefs intended.” The cognoscenti will look at the highly descriptive menu, in the pizza section and elsewhere, and recognize true quality and high value. The restaurant uses local and/or organic ingredients wherever possible. That was evident throughout our meal, but most striking in the steak on Gina’s salad.
We would have to call Wicked Restaurant a hidden gem, but it’s hidden because of a name that makes it seem like a tourist trap, a location where excellent food is unexpected, and a website that doesn’t tout its best qualities. We can assure you that you will be pleasantly surprised.
Wicked Restaurant and Wine Bar
680 Falmouth Road, Mashpee
It’s a beautiful Friday afternoon at the start of summer, and we’re on Cape Cod. We’re in a lovely restaurant recently opened by a highly regarded restaurant group. We’re about to enjoy some delicious food and wine at reasonable prices. We battled some significant traffic to get here.
And we are alone.
Regular readers will recall that Gina and the Big Dog deliberately avoid restaurants at typical meal times, preferring a late lunch as a way to avoid the lax service and unpleasant atmosphere that peak times can bring. We braved Bucatino at 12:30 anyway, mostly because we happened to be in the North Falmouth neighborhood. And inexplicably, we were the only ones there.
It’s a wine bar, so we started with wine. Larissa, our pleasant bartender, offered a taste of anything on the menu. We shared samples of a California Cabernet Franc, “Writer’s Block” (on special for $10), and a Barbera, “Marchisi di Barolo” ($9), and quickly ordered one of each.
We started with an order of the steamed mussels ($12), imagining multiple courses to follow. Its arrival coincided with that of a house-baked bread basket with olive breads, red pepper breads, and some plain rolls, all of which augmented the grilled bread slice that came with the mussels for dipping in the rich buttery sauce. The mussels were briny and clean, and the tasty breads went well with the sauce.
The expansive lunch menu included two intriguing-sounding soups, so again we ordered one of each (cups for $5). The one called Vongole e Fagioli (clams and beans) is a creamy delight that will not disappoint purists looking for clam chowder. The “escarole and white bean” is a classic presentation in a thick, creamy tomato stock. We enjoyed both.
When we arrived, we envisioned salads, sandwiches, and pasta entrees as sides. We would order grilled pizzas, we imagined, and perhaps share a panini.
But no, we were sated with the soups and mussels, and those dishes carried us hours into the evening, when we told a friend about our wonderful experience at Bucatini. “I heard it was expensive,” the friend said. We shared that our delicious, inventive, filling lunch totaled $22 for food: truly a bargain for a lovely restaurant on a beautiful Friday afternoon at the start of summer on Cape Cod.
Bucatino Restaurant and Wine Bar
7 Nathan Ellis Highway, North Falmouth, MA
There are likely many great restaurants in Fall River, but we stumbled across one that we would recommend for any occasion: date night, snack while passing through, impressing clients or in-laws, lunch with Gramma (or Vovo), drinks with the gang, or, as in our case, to celebrate the Big Dog’s upcoming birthday.
On a recent mid-week, mid-afternoon visit to the usually busy Sagres, we were lucky enough to be served by a bartender, Raquel, who was willing and able to guide us through the choices on the menu… and some choices only available to those in the know. We emphasize that at regular mealtimes, waits are long, parking is scarce, and the experience at Sagres will be very different from ours. You know we always recommend late lunch/early dinner if you really want to enjoy the food, and our experience at Sagres should show why.
We struggled with the wine list for a bit, then Raquel stepped in with a taste of the house Portuguese red (not to be confused with any of the house American reds). It’s Parras Vinhos 2014 Castelo do Sulco Reserva Red, and subsequent research (89 Wine Enthusiast points) suggest it’s a steal at $25 a bottle.
We each chose one of the soups available for $4 for a hearty bowl. The Big Dog’s Caldo Verde was a creamy potato broth with kale and slices of linguica. Gina’s Sopa Portuguesa was a hearty blend of chopped vegetables in a tomato broth. We liked them both, and particularly enjoyed the Portuguese “pop” rolls that came alongside.
The Big Dog ordered one of a half dozen lunch specials: Peixe Racheado, fresh cod with a shellfish stuffing, served with the day’s vegetables, rice, and a couple of boiled potatoes ($21). The generous serving of cod was outstanding; the blend of broccoli, carrots, and green beans perfectly cooked; and the potatoes and rice were very good. Both of us liked the taste of the stuffing but were put off by the goopy texture, and we were kind of surprised by the lack of discernible seafood in it.
Gina was unable to decide on an entree, and once again Raquel was there to help, telling us that not only was the shrimp mozambique available as a dinner, but we could do half shrimp and half scallops. Sold, at $19. Gina’s selection came with the vegetables and a good green salad, tossed with oil and vinegar. It was a yummy, spicy take on mozambique sauce, and while the shellfish were a tad overcooked, anyone who enjoys mozambique sauce will love this dish.
As if all this wasn’t enough, we split a delicious Três Delicioso ($7), a new offering, known only to Raquel, featuring a layer of custard, a layer of chocolate mousse, a layer of whipped cream, and a coating of cocoa. Raquel brought us a takeout container for what we couldn’t finish, to tuck in the bag with the rest of our take-away, but we blasted through this enjoyable dessert, leaving only a pile of ashes where the decorative mini-trifle bowl had been. (Not entirely true, but we were unstoppable.)
Sagres is a white-tablecloth restaurant in a blue-collar neighborhood. Its decor is beautiful, food excellent, and, if our experience was any indication, its service is beyond outstanding. We will gladly return.
177 Columbia Street, Fall River
Under normal circumstances, we would never consider reviewing a restaurant that had been open for only three days. In the first few months, even restaurants like this, a duplicate of an existing successful operation, typically have a slew of issues to work through, from personnel conflicts to structural flaws.
This was not the case at Saga Steak House in the new Rosebrook Place complex off I-195/I-495. The decor is snappy, the service attentive, and the food very good. On Day Three. We would be doing you a disservice to withhold a review.
We arrived, frankly, thinking that we would just take a look around and have a beverage on our way home. We looked, and were very impressed at the sleek appearance. The front door opens into a six-seat bar and two high-tops. Beyond that sits a sushi bar. To the right, a dining room, and beyond that in the opposite corner, a hibachi grill room. The dining room and grill were separated by an enormous fish tank wall.
There were patrons in each of these four sections, and most of them were younger than what we’re accustomed to seeing, most heading back to the more raucous scene in the hibachi room. This was with no formal publicity, and at 8 at night. When word gets out, there will be lines.
The affable host, Peter, brought us two glasses of their one cabernet sauvignon, whose name escapes us. It was good, but not a good value at $9 for what appeared to be a scant 5-ounce pour.
One little snack, we vowed, and ordered a Kani Salad to split. It was a delightful tangle of julienned crab sticks (described as crabmeat on the menu) and cucumber, with a hint of mayonnaise and a scattering of tobiko, or flying fish roe ($6). We were hooked.
The beef asparagus appetizer ($8) also caught our eye. You’ve seen this dish as asparagus wrapped in proscuitto then roasted. With a sharp steak knife, these four little rolls would have been outstanding. With chopsticks, they were chewy (they needed tenderizing).
The three dozen or so “specialty rolls” range from $10 to $18 and offer theatrical descriptions for their multitude of ingredients. The “roll or hand roll” selections come at a lesser price and without the descriptions. Or, choose “Sushi and Sashimi A La Carte.” Or “Appetizer From Sushi Bar.” Or “Sushi Bar Entrees,” served with miso soup and salad. After one visit, we can be excused for failing to distinguish among these categories.
We skipped the “Hot Babe Roll” and “Sex on the Beach” and settled on the Rainbow Roll ($11) and Ninja Roll ($13). It was a good pairing from a presentation perspective; the Rainbow was beautifully composed, each topped with diagonally arranged layers of white fish, salmon, tuna, and avocado. The Ninja was more architectural, with spikes of shrimp tempura with a coating of eel emerging from a filling of lobster salad. The combined dish was delicious and beautiful.
As time goes on, we suspect there will be some tweaking with the volume of the background music. The bright lights up front and beverage cooler lights may be toned down. We would like to believe that the existing wineglasses will be replaced by some that are a bit larger. Some dishes may come with a steak knife, maybe a nice one.
But beyond needing those relatively minor adjustments, Saga Steak House appears to be in Year 2 form. We recommend going now, because it won’t be long before Saga is one of the region’s most popular dining destinations.
Saga Steak House
20 Rosebrook Place, Wareham
We had the good fortune of returning with friends to the Pilot House, and it was the kind of dinner where time flies by and next thing you know, it’s time to go home. Joining us was a crew of four people we like a lot. You know the drill: one minute you’re seated in a fairly crowded restaurant, and the next minute the waitstaff is scowling at you from a huddle in the corner, calling their boyfriends to say they’ll be late because a party of six just won’t leave.
It wasn’t that bad, but it was well on its way, on this Saturday night before the summer season makes it so difficult to find a seat at a really good restaurant on the Cape.
And the Pilot House is a really good restaurant. We had one service misstep and one dish described only as “good,” but our dining experience was otherwise excellent.
The Pilot House overlooks the Sandwich Marina near the eastern end of the Cape Cod Canal. One of many window seats at what may have been a wrap-around deck would have offered a great view of the waterfront, but we were seated by the fireplace, unlit during this first warm evening of the year. It’s probably a nice spot there on a winter evening, but due to the restaurant’s spare and airy decor, colorful in a classic way, it was a nice spot in the spring too. The restaurant’s design makes great use of varying levels, with the bar at the entrance at the highest point, and dining levels stepping down towards the sea.
The menu includes a varied selection of wines by the glass. We’ll spare you Gina’s anguish at the news that a new list is being introduced and the Albarino is being phased out (who phases out an Albarino in May!?) — but she was placated with a floral Chateau Ste. Michelle sauvignon blanc ($6). The Big Dog spotted a Josh cabernet ($9) and jumped right in. Jim ordered a Harpoon IPA ($5), which we all know is the perfect antidote to a day of yard work, and Mary the fruity Pilots Punch ($9). Dark and Stormy each ordered their namesake beverage ($9).
As an appetizer, Gina ordered the green salad ($3.95) with balsamic vinaigrette served on the side without asking. The salad consisted of mixed green leaves, with a couple of slices of English cucumber and a couple of grape tomatoes. Sounds boring, perhaps, but the combination of a snappy dressing and fresh, clean, spicy greens was spectacular. A flawless green salad portends a meal characterized by obsessive attention to detail.
Jim ordered a cup of the Portuguese kale soup, the day’s soup ($4.95). Anyone dining regularly in the Southcoast region of Massachusetts knows that kale soup tells you as much about a kitchen as a green salad does, and this didn’t disappoint: Jim said it was hot, both in temperature and spice.
Mary ordered a half dozen raw Duxbury oysters ($13.50) while the rest of us looked on in horror, having recently enjoyed endless oyster dishes during the Wareham Oyster Festival. The Duxburys were on the specials menu, as were Barnstable oysters provided by our friends at Big Rock Oyster.
The Big Dog ordered a caesar salad with anchovies ($6.95), and this is where the unfortunate service misstep occurred. As his entree, he ordered a monstrosity called the Seafood Pot ($17.95) off the appetizer menu, and it was hauled out as his appetizer. So while the rest of the table sat with its tiny soup cups and delicate salads and wee shellfish appetizers, the Dog confronted a giant trough containing lobster, shrimp, oysters, clams, mussels, all in a delicious sauce with bread for dipping. Good, but it threw off the cadence of the dinner in a way that the staff should have anticipated.
As an entree, Dark and Stormy each ordered the seafood special: lobster ravioli generously adorned with lobster, scallops, shrimp, tomatoes, and asparagus ($26.99) in a white wine sauce. We all tried some and agreed that lobster ravioli is so often marred by a heavy sauce, but this was not.
Mary is a connoisseur of fish tacos and was pleased but not particularly impressed by the Pilot House version ($19.95), which included black beans and was made with mahi mahi.
Jim’s dish of mussels marinara ($19.95), were pronounced very tasty. They arrived as an enormous mound of relatively small shells concealing a plate of pasta in a sauce worth sopping up with the bread that came alongside.
Gina was pleasantly surprised by her baked scallops ($21,95), a dish that many restaurants badly mangle. A small plate of a dozen or so large day boat scallops, with crunchy crumb topping, were nestled into a delicious sherry butter sauce, and came with rice and crunchy green beans. The scallops were perfectly done, moist inside but cooked through.
We were kidding, in the beginning, about the waitstaff calling their boyfriends. The team at the Pilot House is professional and pleasant, and at one point a passing staffer alerted us that the Bruins were winning in a playoff game that we could not see from our vantage point.
Gina and the Big Dog enjoyed this spot in a different way when stopping in recently for an afternoon snack and beverage at the bar. It was evident during that stop that the Pilot House is the sort of dependable yet adventuresome restaurant where you go with people who are important to you. We did that, and we were not disappointed.
The Pilot House Restaurant and Lounge
14 Gallo Road, Sandwich
At the Pilot House Restaurant, you can see the east end of the Cape Cod Canal from pretty much every seat. A step down here, a couple of steps up there, and you get a multi-level extravaganza of entertaining views.
Of course, Gina and the Big Dog sat at the bar, where you get peeks of sparkly water but not much else in terms of view. We did get to see an excellent golf tournament on TV, and we had a great view of the Pilot House’s excellent selection of unusual wines.
We don’t usually dwell on the alcohol, but let us do that for a moment. We ordered two glasses of Cabernet Sauvignon in order to compare them: one Justin, which we had only ever seen by the bottle at The Rye Tavern in Plymouth, and a Josh Cellars, which the Big Dog gets at The Lobster Trap in nearby Pocasset (and which we just realized we’ve never mentioned). Lucky Gina got the $12 Justin, and the Big Dog got the $8 Josh. Both were rich, lush Cabs, full of fruit but not jammy, but when it came time to order a second glass we decided that the distinction wasn’t worth $4, and we ordered another pair of Joshes.
We note that a Chardonnay drinker beside us was delighted to see a La Crema on the wine list, but balked at the $11 pricetag. Lucky for her, apparently, her blustery male companions insisted ordered the La Crema over her objections.
We’re sure that you could order soup, salad, and entrees at the Pilot House, and maybe a dessert, and enjoy them all. But do what we did, and you’ll be just as happy.
To start, we ordered the cold seafood sampler ($15.95). It came with a lobster claw, two oysters, two littlenecks, and four peel-and-eat shrimp. We don’t share the same taste in seafood, and this was a perfect arrangement, with us each getting plenty of the stuff we like. The platter came with plastic cups of horseradish, cocktail sauce, and a vinegar concoction that Patricia the bartender explained was “minuet sauce — some people like it with their oysters.” The oysters were from Barnstable, we learned, and everything was clean and crisp and fresh.
We then ordered a haddock chowder special ($5.95) and blackened swordfish with lemon caper butter special ($12.95). We informed Patricia that we intended to split both, and she facilitated that with extra spoons and plates.
The chowder was outstanding. We don’t mean it was good. We mean that if we do a chowder contest: sorry, kids, but we’re picking the Pilot House. We mean that if we’re marooned on a desert island, the one food we want with us is Pilot House chowder. We mean that if we’re elected president, this soup will be served in the White House. We mean… well, you get the picture. We all have our pet peeves about chowder: too thick, too thin, potatoes too big, insufficient protein, etc., but we dare you to find something wrong with this creamy, bacony, thyme-y bowl of bliss.
The salad was a very fresh lettuce mix with some added oomph — maybe brussels sprouts leaves? — with grape tomatoes, a few European cucumber slices, some red onion, and the best house-made Italian dressing we have ever tasted. No need to tart up this basic oil and vinegar emulsion with herbs or cheese.
The swordfish was good. The butternut squash served alongside was also good. The mashed potatoes were fluffy, smooth, and delicious.
The Pilot House isn’t new. The building has clearly been there for a long time, although the interior has a fresh updated feel, and the operators tout some significant experience in the area. It was new to us, though, and we look forward to returning for outdoor dining as the weather warms.
The Pilot House Restaurant and Lounge
14 Gallo Road, Sandwich
Put your flaps up and landing gear down for final approach to this fine restaurant located, appropriately, at the New Bedford Airport. From the air, the Grille may look romantic or welcoming, but arriving by land, we entered through a winding industrial park road and walked through a formica-clad airport waiting room. The contrast made the sleek restaurant decor seem even snazzier than it is. Cape Air provides passenger service at New Bedford, and the Airport Grille certainly approaches island standards for those stopping in for a snack before their 50-minute flight to Nantucket.
For our earthbound excursion, we were joined by Estelle and Rupert, who were sipping espresso martinis when we arrived. We began with an order of PEI mussels in a traditional preparation of white wine and butter ($10). The dish was also available with littlenecks, and could be prepared Portuguese style, or diavolo. This was a great choice and should have guided the rest of our evening: when in New Bedford, even in a landlocked industrial park, eat fish.
The Big Dog and Rupert each ordered a salad which the ladies sampled. Dog’s “local greens” ($6) was crisp and fresh in a lightly applied balsamic vinaigrette. Rupert’s wedge salad ($7) looked pretty good, despite slices of wan, wintry tomatoes, but Estelle said the creamy dressing was oppressive.
Gina made the best entree choice of the night, selecting roasted sole ($18) and scarfing it down before the rest of the party had a chance to get a good look at it. The sole was layered with crab meat and linguica atop risotto with green beans. The stack was topped with hearty crumbs and a light lemony hollandaise sauce, a delicious combination. (Note to dining companions: See photo above.)
Estelle selected a pappardelle bolognese ($15) whose lightly applied sauce had a nice tang to it.
The Big Dog ordered a sirloin steak ($26) and regretted it because of that whole fish thing. The steak cut was gristly, the asparagus tasty but nothing spectacular, and even the bernaise sauce was weak.
Rupert ordered salmon ($18). It came with couscous and broccoli rabe and a piquant sauce, and was excellent. The very fresh and hearty cut of salmon was perfectly prepared and complimented by the yummy sauce.
With our entrees, we shared a bottle of Bazan malbec ($30) which we all enjoyed.
To conclude, we shared a creme brulee, because it turns out that Estelle also adheres to Gina’s rule that if creme brulee appears on the menu, you have to order it, because it’s invariably delicious, and it’s not like you’re going to make it at home. It was topped with a kind of a sad-looking strawberry.
Before taking off, we poked around the restaurant, which was quiet for a Saturday, and found a lovely lounge where comfy leather chairs were arrayed around a gas fireplace. We’re guessing that the sunset, as well as the display of air traffic in the summer season, would be pretty spectacular. But the food was great too, and that’s a rare combination.
1569 Airport Road, New Bedford
The structure was built in 1797 and presumably at that time it was on a busy thoroughfare. Today, one dirt entrance takes you past the golf course community known as The Pinehills, and the other brings you in through bucolic horse farms. These are neighbors who think nothing of shelling out 45 bucks for a bottle of Cabernet, as the folks next to us at the bar did. That’s pretty pricey for us canines, but not inconsistent for the menu.
That said, our total before tip, for two appetizers, two entrees, and a bottle of La Fiera Montepulciano ($25), came to just $91. Not bad for an excellent, ample dinner of fresh ingredients, as local as the bitter March winds would allow, prepared at the direction of an expert chef. We happened to be on duty for the first night of a new menu, and we had difficulty making choices.
Our mild red wine arrived alongside a bread basket that the Big Dog thought was the highlight of the dinner — a sweet, cakelike cinnamon bread and an oatmeal bread that probably contained something like pumpkin.
But surely the actual highlight was the carrot and ginger soup ($7) that the Dog ordered as an appetizer. Topped with a dollop of brie and sprinkled with chopped chives, the puree was thick enough to eat with a fork. The sweet carrots were edged out by the spicy ginger in a concoction that transcended the traditional combination.
But no! The real highlight was Gina’s crispy brussels sprout appetizer ($6). Braised sprout leaves fluttered around a puddle of lemon aioli, anchored by meaty sprout halves and sprinkled with teeny candied sunflower seeds. Kathleen, our able bartender, said a previous seasonal menu had omitted the sprouts appetizer, and regulars were very unhappy.
If our entree selections were any indication, Chef Joanna Farrar’s M.O. is to mix the vegetables and starch together, plate it over a ladle of sauce, position the protein on top, and garnish the dish with something interesting. For people who use a divided dish into adulthood, this is a disconcerting approach, but some of us like it. The Big Dog is on the fence about it, and this affected his view of dinner.
He ordered scallops ($23). Five large scallops were seared to a mahogany color while maintaining their juicy interior. The ladle was a rich balsamic glaze. The veggie/starch mix was quinoa, tomatoes, and olives. The garnish was arrugula in a lemony dressing. Despite the Dog’s reservations about quinoa, apparently an acquired taste or texture, there was nothing left to bring home.
Gina’s dish ($25) was a mix of couscous, mushrooms, and peas, topped by two generous and juicy slabs of swordfish, garnished with a bright salsa verde and a scoop of house-made ricotta. She ultimately agreed with the Dog that the combination of everything was overwhelming, but the Divided Dish gene she inherited, along with the ability to separate ingredients with a fork or knife, revealed the individual elements as delicious.
Now, to offset our whining about the bumpy, bear-lined roads, we should mention one feature that will bring us back, and two others that are really cool. We will definitely find our way back to the Tavern to sit outside on the heated patio around a gas fire. The country setting and charming landscape would make this a great spot for outdoor dining or just a gruner veltliner on a summer night. A secondary feature is what they describe as a 2,100 square foot vegetable garden. And finally, imagine wending your way through a two-century-old tavern, complete with what appear to be original features, into a nicely appointed restrooms complete with wooden sinks. No kidding! They’re new, and they’re beautiful.
Plymouth is full of odd antiquities, and here is one that is well off the beaten path — and well worth visiting. We envy the folks for whom this is a neighborhood tavern.
517 Old Sandwich Road, Plymouth
On a snowy winter night, there’s little more welcoming than a basement tavern with a roaring fireplace, dark wood decor, an attentive bartender, the soft murmur of quiet conversations, and excellent food.
Bittersweet Farm Tavern comes close to all that. On our first visit recently, we enjoyed a very good meal. The soft murmur was somewhat marred by the hubbub of a large party preparing for an event upstairs, and by a howling baby. The bartender may ordinarily have been attentive, but was distracted by computer problems.
But we would have to be pretty cranky to let those details spoil our evening. The food was well prepared using fresh-tasting ingredients, and the varied menu enabled each of us to choose our go-to favorites, the dishes we’re always happy to be able to order and about which we consider ourselves to be near-expert. We had a very enjoyable dinner for $100, including tip, with thanks to the Big Dog’s sister Kelly and her family for the Christmas gift certificate that got us out there in the first place.
The Big Dog started with an order of a half dozen oysters. The bartender gave him a choice of Cuttyhunks and Sakonnets and the Dog opted for three of each, to compare. They were easy to tell apart: the Sakonnets were smaller, sweeter, and maintained their delicate mollusk shape, definitely recommended if you ever get the chance.
Next up: two house salads, a medley of fresh mixed greens and other vegetables, with an excellent balsamic dressing.
The Big Dog ordered fish and chips, shown above, and said it was an excellent rendition, with perfect chunky cole slaw in a clever romaine bowl, and really good fish. Very fresh and very delicious, with a light batter. Those big flat fries are rarely any good, and the Dog would likely order something else next time to avoid them.
Gina’s choice was bernaise sauce. It happened to come with a bacon-wrapped filet, but the sauce was just as good on the accompanying broccoli, baked potato, and fork.
The menu at Bittersweet Farm is really quite impressive, with such a range of dishes that it’s difficult to choose. All the more reason to return.
438 Main Road, Westport MA