MC SLIM JB
Photo Credit: Nicole Popma
Friends are often surprised when I suggest certain destinations not known for amazing food: the ancient restaurant whose menu hasn’t changed since the ’60s, the local pub that leans heavily on the Sysco truck. “It’s about the hospitality,” I reply. I’m a firm believer that a warm welcome and a barman who cares enough to remember my usual can elevate the most pedestrian chicken parm or nacho plate into something satisfying. Restaurants with an evident ethos to make every customer feel well cared for can get away with less-than-extraordinary food. But combine an exceptional focus on hospitality with terrific food, and you end up with a long-running smash. That’s the fate for which I expect Fairsted Kitchen, the newest kid on the Brookline block, is destined.
The warm feeling starts with Patrick Gaggiano’s bar program, which reinforces the welcome recent trend of independent restaurants taking cocktails, wine and beer equally seriously. Specialty cocktails show roots in century-old classics and all the right craft ingredients, epitomized by the Antigua Plaza ($12), with American rye, mezcal, Cocchi Americano, Benedictine and bitters—smoky, complex, balanced, delicious. A rotation of cocktails on tap (!) includes the Boulevardier ($12): rye, Cappelletti (an Alpine Italian amaro) and sweet vermouth, like a richer, browner Negroni. Nine by-the-glass wines include welcome novelties like the citrusy, almost briny 2010 Barbanau Cassis Blanc ($8) from Provence, and the tongue-twisting 2010 Dingacˇ Peljeac ($9), a deep-purple Croatian red with the black pepper and cherry accents of a zinfandel. The 66-deep bottle list is helpfully organized by style (e.g., “citrus and mineral” whites) and tilted toward France, complemented by German and Austrian whites and Italian reds, plus a sprinkling of New World wines.
Chef W. Scott Osif’s menu bounces between Mediterranean coastal cuisine, East/West fusion and refined takes on Mitteleuropean peasant fare. Leading off the meze-sized snacks menu is the pig-head lettuce wrap ($5), more challenging on paper than the palate, a crunchy fritter of mild, unscary pork pâté dressed like a bánh mì in herbs, chili and slivered root vegetables on a Boston lettuce leaf—offal in Franco-Vietnamese drag for beginners. Also rewarding are the cod beignets ($8), lovely, creamy-centered bites with clear cod flavor, given brightness and depth from a smoked-tomato confit. The latke-like potato cake ($8) is surprisingly light given the inimitable flavor of duck-fat frying, its schmear of paprika-dusted yogurt evoking a bit of Budapest. Cauliflower dotted with capers and raisins ($8) is simple verging on dull, rescued by the umami jolt of fine white anchovies.
Small plates pack the biggest wow factor. Herb spatzle ($13) with leeks, Gruyère and tender rabbit is what the deathly cliché of gussied-up mac ’n’ cheese dreams of being, an elegant plate of comfort. Cumin-dusted lamb ribs ($13) with a Southeast Asian dip of rice vinegar and fish sauce are crisp-edged, meaty, fatty wonders. White beans ($13) bring a waft of the Iberian seaside, loaded with beautifully tender squid, redolent of fresh sage, with a few cubes of squash for color, soon hidden once you stir in the squid-ink aioli: a magnificently hearty, elemental stew. Raw fluke ($13) takes a pristine sample of a great local fish, cuts it crudo-style, and then mostly leaves it alone, with just a few complementary fruit and herb notes, plus the subtle, perfect exclamation point of microtome-thin slices of serrano chili. The humble stuffed cabbage ($13) is a surprise stunner, pretty as a picture with its crown of caramelized onions; with a ravishing caraway-flecked veal filling, it’s Ashkenazi Jewish soul food dressed up for the ball. A large plate of young chicken ($19) boasts exemplary roasting technique and is given an awe-inspiring foundation in the little-seen frike, the superbly earthy, nutty Middle Eastern grain of roasted green wheat.
I won’t go on about the amount of apparent affection for their customers, the sense that making strangers feel happy with lovingly prepared food and skillfully made drinks is a role that owners Steve Bowman and Andrew Foster seem born to play. In a space this cozy (35 dining room seats, with another dozen in the bar), you can’t miss it from any corner of the room. In just a few months, Fairsted Kitchen has cemented Washington Square’s blossoming reputation as a destination not just for nearby locals, but a larger swath of Bostonians seeking serious, inventive food in a casual, convivial—you might even say loving—package.
White beans with squid
Cumin-dusted lamb ribs
Hours: Sun.-Thu., 5 pm-1 am; Fri.-Sat., 5 pm-2 am; brunch, Sat.-Sun., 10 am-3 pm
Credit cards: Yes
Liquor: Full bar