>> Sunday, July 18, 2010
Please welcome my good friend Peter, who has generous offered to write this guest post about Bergamot here on Tiny Urban Kitchen. Some of you may remember Peter's very thorough review of Melisse (Santa Monica, California) about 6 months ago. I must give Peter 100% credit for finding and telling us about this place. I'll let him give you the gory details, but I just want to say that I highly highly recommend this place! Bryan and I have each been here twice, and we think the food is fantastic and the prices are quite reasonable. Please read on to learn much much more! - Jen
What follows is a tale of abandonment, redemption and enlightenment. This is an extensive review of four visits so please grab a cocktail before you indulge.
My wife abandoned me.
No, no, we are happily married, but when friends offered her an option to go on a weekend food binge in New York City, she jumped at the chance leaving me behind. Why didn't I go? Well, I was tired from a week long conference in Orlando. More importantly, these diners had budgetary limitations which significantly narrowed their dining choices. Because Jen and Bryan had raved so highly about Daniel, it had become a mandatory destination for my next trip to the Big Apple. No Daniel, no Peter.
Late that Friday night, I was home alone with nothing to eat and my stomach growling. So I decided to explore. What's open late in Boston that's new, exciting, and untried? As I looked on the OpenTable "Fit for Foodies" list, I saw a new entry, Bergamot. They have a slot for 10pm, they are located close to my home, and I consider myself a foodie. Bingo, booked!
Upon entering, I was greeted by Servio Garcio, the General Manager. He escorted me to one of the two person tables that lined the bench seating against the wall. The decor of Bergamot is a mix between bistro and fine dining. There are a number of homey touches like the waiting area sofa, ample natural light from the wall-to-wall windows, and the open kitchen with an inviting staff. But the place is also impeccably dressed; a full complement of glasses and silverware adorn the tables, high ceilings that invokes a sense of grandeur and elegant touches like well-placed vases of flowers. It is one of those places perfect for either a special occasion or a casual dinner.
I was entrusted to Jason, my caretaker for the evening. In all my years of dining, I can count on one hand truly great service experiences (even at multi-Michelin star establishments). I have never had an experience where the service made me want to come back. Yet Bergamot did just that. The entire staff flowed and acted as one unit. I was serviced by no less than five people and at no point was there any redundancy. Utensils and plates were changed out after every course with efficiency. When Jason was busy with another table, one of the other waiters timed it so that the dessert menu arrived right when I needed it. Jason then came by a few minutes later to take my order. There was no hesitation, no surprise that I had already received the menu, not even eye contact between the two. It all flowed like a harmonious melody at an efficient but unhurried pace.
One of the most impressive elements of service at Bergamot is the treatment of wine and alcohol by the staff. I ordered a half bottle of Chateau Pibarnon Bandol 2005 ($44, WS 95), the most highly rated wine off of their eclectic and predominantly French wine list. When Jason returned with the bottle he assured me that he had a decanter waiting at the bar.
I have never seen a half bottle of wine treated with such dignity. Usually, I have to request for the wine to be decanted. Before dessert, noticing that I still had some wine left, Jason observed, “I would ask you if you would like coffee, but no coffee I offer could surpass the Chateau Pibarnon.” Whether Jason picked up on my fondness for this wine, or he tasted the Bandol himself as part of dinner preparation, or his comments were at the prompting of Wine Director Kai Gagnon, I will never know. Sidenote: I have since tried their coffee, and in my opinion the Pibarnon is better. I love this wine, try some if you can before I exhaust their supply.
The level of engagement of the service was also perfect. The dialog was intelligent, interesting, but never intrusive or pushy. I hate servers who come at you every few minutes to ask if everything is alright. Look at my face, read my body language. Am I fussing over the food, drinking a lot of water, making weird expressions after each bite, dry heaving, vomiting? Or am I savoring each bite, excitedly sharing with others, licking off every morsel from the plate, entranced in some orgasmic ecstasy?
Considering that the restaurant had been open for only four months, kudos to General Manager Garcia, Chef Pooler, and Wine Director Gagnon!
What about the food? The bread and spread are home made, and they are different every day. Also unique is the dual amuse: one before the meal and one before dessert. Pooler seems fond of rare or raw meats in his savory amuses, which is atypical. For my amuse, I had a morsel of lamb that was perfectly sized, nicely rare, and a bite of goodness to start.
Duck is my favorite poultry and my first measure of any establishment that carries it. Naturally, my first taste has to be Duck, Duck, Duck Salad Duck with Duck Confit, Cured Duck, Craclin, Frisee, Pepper Relish, Mil Ovejas Cheese and Smokey Sherry Vinegar Emulsion. The appetizer is a tribute to the location's predecessor, EVOO, and a interesting take on duck three ways. Chunks of cured duck and “croutons” of cracklins sit on top of a frisee salad that is dressed with pepper relish and a smokey sherry vinegar emulsion. Unfortunately, the cured duck and cracklins were salty and the combination with the sour emulsion and spicy relish made the dish very harsh. The Mil Ovejas cheese help cut the over-seasoned poultry, but there was not enough to balance. The duck confit hidden below the frisee was moist and tender and perfectly seasoned.
Pan-seared East Coast Halibut
Leeks, Baby Yukon Gold Potatoes, Baby Carrots, Sweet Cicely Sauce
For my entrée, I tried the Rainbow Trout with Garlic Scapes, Asparagus, Baby Shiitake Mushrooms and Bacon-Sherry Beurre Blanc. The fish was slightly overcooked and over-seasoned, but still flaky and tender. The skin was left on the fillet, which would have added a nice texture contrast had it been crispy. But it was not. The garlic scapes, asparagus and mushrooms were perfectly executed and added great flavor and texture. The bacon-sherry beurre blanc (a variation on the classic butter and wine sauce) provided just a little fatiness and naughtiness that is a characteristic of many of Pooler's creations.
For my final course, I had the Carrot Cake with Cream Cheese Bavarios, Pineapple, Walnuts and Candied Carrots. The cake is moist with a mild carrot flavor and the slices of pineapple that topped the cake gave it a nice hit of acid and fruit. The addition of the candied carrot in a chip is a stroke of genius. The crunch and slight carrot sweetness from the chip was a perfect marriage with the spongy texture of the cake and the fibrous, juicy nature of the pineapple. I had mistaken the cream cheese bavario for a scoop of ice cream, but it was much lighter and milder in flavor. You can tell a lot of thought was given to the harmony of each element and they worked perfectly.
Even though the appetizer was over-seasoned and the entrée was good but less than perfect, the service and the dessert left me happy and wanting more. I texted my wife sharing my experience and my menu hoping to make her jealous, but her response was “I am at Mario Batali’s Tarry Lodge and the pasta is amazing!” Foiled again! Ugh!
Guajillo Chile Chocolate Pave
Taza Chocolate, Milk Stout Ice Cream, Apricot Caramel, Pretzel Sticks
How could a restaurant pay so much attention to every detail, have excellent service, amazing dessert and not be perfect on the food? Every fiber in my being said it was an anomaly and I had to give Bergamot another try (as they say in Top Chef Masters, even great chefs have bad days).
Naturally, the following Friday, my wife abandoned me again to eat at South End Buttery with co-workers. I made a 10:15 PM reservation hoping that my wife can join up with me for dessert. I walked in at 10:00 PM hoping to get seated early, but the place was packed. Servio greeted me and apologized. “I can’t seat you early, so you may have to wait until your reservation time.” No problem, that’s why I had my Wine Spectator magazine in tow. Remember that nice couch? I plopped myself on it and read my magazine for exactly…you guessed it…fifteen minutes. “Your table is ready!”
I was taken to one of the middle tables that sat four. I looked across to the table next to mine and there sat the governor, Deval Patrick. Wow, great service and A-list celebrities. What a gem I stumbled into!
This time I choose to forgo wine and just get a cocktail. Once again, the staff’s familiarity with drink astonished me. “Screwdriver with Chopin please.” I requested. “Sorry, we don’t carry Chopin, but if you are interested in potato vodka we have two other brands.” I was floored. Most people don’t know that Chopin is a vodka, let alone a potato vodka.
Following the drink was the usual pre-dinner goodies. The spread this time was a walnut butter that I couldn’t stop eating. It was sweet, nutty, and perfect for the bread that accompanied it.
Chive Butter and Homemade Bread
For my first course, I had the Baby Roasted Beets with Shy Brother’s Farm Cheese Curd, Shiso, Apricot-Ginger Puree and Spiced Walnuts. The presentation was reminiscent of the beautiful plating at Clio. The two types of beats (golden and red) were sliced into rounds and diced. Most preparation of beets tends to be overly sweet, but these beets had a subtle and natural sweetness that did not mask the beet taste. The cheese curds were mild and added a nice chewy texture to balance the crunch of the walnuts. The apricot-ginger puree and the fried shiso leaf gave the dish Asian notes. In fact, the shiso leaf was the element that put the dish over the top. Generally, shiso has a strong fennel or mint taste, but these leaves had just a hint of fennel flavor which paired well with and brought out a different character of the beets. This appetizer was one of the best beets salads I have ever had.
For my main course, I had the Pork Tenderloin with Glazed Eggplant, Red Bliss Potato and Chicharron. The pork was juicy and tender. The potato mash was nice and starchy but not heavy or overly buttery. The eggplant was glazed with mirin, a Japanese rice wine, that brought out the eggplant flavor and gave it a sweetness that complements the pork. And what pork dish would be complete without a nice piece of friend pork rind (Chicharron) to chew on. Yum! The dish was utterly enjoyable and soul satisfying. Chef Pooler knows his pork, and it is not surprising that he considered Little Piggy as a possible name for his first venture.
White Chocolate Mousse, Gooseberries, Golden Raspberries, Fennel Fronds
My wife joined me for dessert. I had the Carrot Cake again (so that my wife could try) while she had the special dessert for the evening a Strawberry Ice Cream. The ice cream was refreshing, not too sweet and had a strong taste of strawberry (which is often missing from our genetically altered supermarket strawberries). It also had savory and floral elements that made it very unique. Each dessert at Bergamot is an adventure in new tastes, textures and flavors. Pastry chef Stacy Mirabellois is a master at her art and it is worth going to Bergamot just for the desserts.
First of Summer
Olive Oil Gelato, Black Pepper Financier, Slow-Roasted Local Strawberries, Basil Tapioca
I got my wife hooked, and we returned the next Friday so that she could try a full meal. She picked the blackboard menu which was consisted a Summer Herb Salad, White Sea Bass with Stewed Cousa Squash and Lardons, and Strawberry Sorbet with Elderberry and Kaffir Lime Broth. I had the Pea Green Salad, Grilled Flat Iron Steak, and the First of Summer which was an olive oil gelato. The Pea Green Salad was crisp and refreshing, exactly what you want on a summer evening, and the Berkshire ham and the Scotch egg made the dish unctuous and playful. The Flat Iron Steak was cooked to a perfect medium rare and the meat was tender, but had that chewy crunch that you expect from a more fleshy cut of meat. The olive oil gelato was a real surprise. It had a slight olive taste that did not overpower the gelato. The basil tapioca was a unique technique for delivering basil flavor. I dislike basil, but I liked the tapioca.
I was right! The first meal was a fluke. The food is as good as the service and everything is well executed, extremely thoughtful, and in perfect balance. For example, portion sizes are designed for you to have three courses without feeling stuffed. Some have complained that they are too small; I think they are just right.
Braised Rabbit Leg
Eva's Arugula, Portabella Mushrooms, Shallots, Pecorino Cheese, Balsamic Vinaigrette
Having spent all my Fridays in June at Bergamot, I had to share it my best friends Jen and Bryan. I emailed Servio and let him know that Tiny Urban Kitchen was coming and asked if we could take some pictures of the kitchen and interview Chef Pooler and Wine Director Gagnon. Servio did one better and offered for us a nine course tasting with the best product from that day’s trip to the farmer’s market. The menu was a sampling of the dishes although portion size was generous for a tasting and Jen was full by the third course. The food pictures in this review (except for the first one which is from their bar menu) are from the tasting.
Glazed Eggplant, Shishito Pepper Puree, Tempura-Battered Squash Blossom, Chicharron
Chef Keith Pooler and Jen with Bergamot Flower and Herbs
Chef Pooler spent about twenty minutes after dinner to share his culinary viewpoint and give us a tour of the kitchen. He believes in sourcing the best seasonal ingredients. While he relies heavily on local farmer’s markets, he will import ingredients from all over the US if there is something worthwhile. He does not believe in signature dishes and expects the menu to change frequently with complete overhauls as the seasons change. I came away from the discussion with a distinct impression. Keith Pooler is a food nerd, and he likes working with people who are food nerds. This is a very good thing for those of us who like to eat.
118 Beacon St
Somerville, MA 02143