>> Wednesday, December 19, 2012
I cannot tell you how long I've been waiting for this.
Well, I guess I could, technically.
I still remember that fateful day back in May of 2011 when we stopped into our favorite local hangout, Garden at the Cellar, and found out that Chef Will Gilson had left, planning to do a pop-up in the Cape for the summer.
Noooooo! It can't be!
The Garden at the Cellar had quickly become our favorite place to visit, a mere one minute walk (maybe two minutes if we had to wait for traffic on Mass Ave) from our tiny urban condo. It was a place where we knew we could enjoy Will's ever changing seasonally-inspired menu as well as the fantastic truffle fries (which we got every single time).
I knew Will was talented, and I was itching to see what he would do next.
The following year flew by. Sure, I saw Will here and there, but he was pretty mum about his plans, though he did hint there was something in the works.
The waiting is finally over.
Will Gilson opened up his first restaurant, Puritan & Co, in Inman Square less than two weeks ago.
The name "Puritan & Co" is inspired by the "Puritan Cake Company", a company that occupied the Inman Square space back in the 1920's. Will wanted his new restaurant to reflect his roots (Will is a 13th generation New Englander). He grew up at the Herb Lyceum in Groton, Mass, a white country farmhouse surrounded by rows of greenhouses brimming with herbs and other seasonal plants.
The decor at Puritan & Co evokes this same sense of heritage and feeling of traditional New England country. The 1920's Glenwood stove at the host's stand is actually the first stove that Will ever cooked on as a child, brought over from the Herb Lyceum.
It's a comfortable, warm, and inviting space. I love the tall ceilings and relaxed feel.
The folio style menus remind me of a certain Thomas Keller restaurant I visited less than a year ago. The menu is divided up into six sections: Oyster & Charcuterie Bar ($10-$15), Snacks ($6-$7), Starters ($11-$18), Salads ($12-$15), Soups ($12-14), and Hearty ($24-$28).
The potato Parker House rolls are baked fresh throughout the day by pastry chef Mike Geldart. We find them to be super soft, slightly sweet, and really good with butter.
The meal begins with an amuse bouche of Cobia Crudo with Butternut Squash Gelato and Sea Beans. Cobia is a white fleshed fish that, according to Chef Gilson, is really flavorful and sustainable. He cites cobia as the "hardest dish that we've tried to get people to get behind . ." I agree that the cobia crudo is delicious, although I am not sure if I like the pairing of the icy cold gelato with the crudo. It is a bit too cold for my tongue (and teeth!) so early in the meal.
The Snack Section: The gougeres ($6), which are sort of like cheese-filled pastry puffs, come highly recommended by our waiter. Chef Gilson makes his gourgeres with rosemary and Clothbound cheddar mornay.
What is "mornay"? It's a Béchamel sauce (traditional creamy white sauce) made with cheese. Chef Gilson's gougere oozes with this rich cheesy sauce when you bite into one. It's rich, it's flavorful, and very heavy. I am expecting the cheese to be hot, but it's actually cold, which sort of detracts from the enjoyment of the gougere. An order comes with two, which is more than plenty as an appetizer. In fact, I almost feel like it sort of filled up my stomach before my appetizer even comes.
Charcuterie Bar: Swordfish Belly Pastrami ($15), which comes with pickled Brussels sprouts and a savory ice cream, is one of the several "composed charcuteries" on the menu. We both really, really enjoy this starter. The swordfish is just perfectly seasoned (yes, it really does taste like traditional pastrami spices), and pairs well with the accompanying components (including the ice cream). It is one of our favorite dishes.
Soups: The presentation for the clam chowder is stunning. A row of clams perfectly dressed with goodies like bacon and herbs stand center stage while the soup is poured tableside. The clams are fresh and tasty, though the flavor of the chowder itself doesn't strike us as anything special. We've had better.
Salads: I had always enjoyed Chef Gilson's salads when he was at Garden at the Cellar, so it's no surprise that I love this simple Baby Kale and Mustards Salad ($12). My favorite part is the "fried cheddar", which are airy and crunchy croutons made of cheese. They are salty, deeply cheesy, crispy, and absolutely delicious. The dill adds a lovely fresh herbaceous tone to the salad, and the grilled onions provide smoke and sweetness. In my two visits to Puritan & Co, I've ordered this both times.
Starters: The Baked Scallop ($15) looks like one huge baked scallop in its shell, although I think there are actually a few scallops inside the green, herb-based sauce. The scallops are very tender, and overall the dish is fine, though we aren't sure if we would order it again.
Starters: The grilled Cobia Collar is a special of the day and not on the regular menu. Grilled fish collarbone is pretty popular in Japanese restaurants, though I seldom see it in Western places. This collar is marinated (I think) in sake, mirin, and possibly soy. The flavors are good, though I wish it had just a hint of sweetness. I find the dish just a tad too salty.
Starters: One of the most popular dishes to date is the Lamb Belly ($14), which is served with eggplant, orange + moxie (an old school soft drink). In fact, on our way out of the restaurant after our first visit, Chef Gilson asks us, "did you guys try the lamb belly?" He is bummed that we did not, and tells us we have to try it.
Sure enough, Bryan orders it during our second visit. He loves the tender belly meat and the juicy layer of fat right on top of the meat. The orange + moxie sauce is a bit sweet for him, but he still thinks the lamb belly tastes perfectly fine on its own even without the orange sauce.
Sides: The Toasted Barley Risotto at $18 is by far the most expensive side dish on the menu. We soon realize that this "side dish" is really quite misplaced in this section of the menu. It's huge, and realy more a full-fledged entree than a side dish. Update: it appears that the section is now named "vegetables."
Bryan absolutely loves the risotto. He can't get enough of the really nice, al dente texture of the barley. Furthermore, the flavor is excellent, full of deep, rich mushroom essence and that nutty, toasted barley flavor.
Hearty: One of Bryan's favorite dishes to date is the Wood Roasted Muscovy Duck ($28), which is served with quinoa, salsify (the big white root vegetable in the picture), and roasted mushrooms. Thyme is the predominant herb. Chef Gilson does a beautiful job on the meat - it's juicy, tender, and really flavorful.
Hearty: The Lamb Chop and Lamb Sausage ($27) is a fun play on a traditional lamb chop and is served with hay roasted carrots, ash oil, and lamb jus. Chef Gilson combines the two by wrapping the lamb sausage around the lamb chop.
I'm a huge fan of sausage in general, so I enjoy this dish more than I would a normal lamb dish. We still have visions of lamb in our heads from our recent trip to New Zealand (more on that coming soon!). Though Bryan still thinks the lamb in New Zealand is better, this is pretty darn good for what you can get in the US.
Desserts: Current autumn/winter offerings for dessert include a pumpkin ice cream, parsnip cake, toll house cookie dough sundae, and a quince galette. We opt to share the Quince Galette ($7), which comes with marcona almonds, apply jelly on the side, and is topped with a buttermilk glace.
We both enjoy this dessert a lot. The galette is not too big and thus it's a nice, not-too-heavy way to end a perfectly enjoyable meal.
Before we leave, complimentary Puritan Cakes accompany the bill. Chef Gilson's father found the original recipe for Puritan cakes in a newspaper clipping. They recreated the recipe, "improved it", and now serve it as a parting bite for all the guests.
It's a nice nod to the history behind the space. Frankly, the modified Puritan cake is still sort of dry and not that amazing (especially compared to everything else), but it's still a nice little parting "snack" and I still eat it every time.
I'm thrilled that Will's new restaurant seems to be getting off to a fantastic start. We were extremely impressed with the service there. Our server knew the ingredients in each dish, the characteristics of each wine, and even the tasting notes of the beers inside and out without missing a beat (yes, we peppered her with a lot of questions).
Overall the food is excellent at Puritan & Co. Sure, there were a few things I would skip, but there are plenty of dishes for which I would happily return. Our favorites thus far? The mushroom barley risotto, swordfish belly pastrami, anything made with lamb, and the muscovy duck. Yes, the man's an expert when it comes to meat. I personally loved the salads as well.
I expect Will plans on constantly changing the menu, and I wouldn't be surprised if we see all sorts of creative charcuterie showing up. It seems like the perfect place to sit at the bar and sample all sorts of little bites paired with their collection of interesting beers and wine.
Welcome back, Will. It's really, really nice to finally have you back.
And I'm glad your new place is still relatively close to my home, though it's hard to beat those days when you were literally across the street.
Puritan & Co.
1166 Cambridge St