>> Sunday, November 10, 2013
Cochon de lait (deep fried head cheese), Chicken Rillette, Duck Prosciutto, Lamb Salumi, Lardo, Coppa di Testa ($15 for half board, $30 for full board)
It wasn't that long ago when most people in America would be grossed out by the idea of eating chicken hearts, pig's heads, or whole fish.
Growing up in a Taiwanese household, I was no stranger to the likes of chicken feet, pig's ears, or fish heads on the table. However, it wasn't until the last 5-10 years that I have started to see these items appear more often in the American upscale dining scene. In conjunction with the desire to eat local and seasonal foods, the movement towards eating "nose-to-tail" has permeated the food culture in Boston (and many other parts of the US).
Tavern Road, a new restaurant opened in February 2013 by brothers Michael and Louis DiBicarri, most certainly embraces and pushes the envelope of this movement.
Louis DiBicarri, the chef part of the duo, is very serious about this. Louis regularly brings whole pigs, lambs, and birds into the kitchen. He makes an effort to use every part of the animal. Tavern Road often feature an "animal of the day", a special menu of dishes all made from one animal. Louis cures his own meat, makes his own sausage, and invents all sorts of other creations using various animal parts. Tavern Road regularly host whole animal dinners based on an entire locally raised animal.
In fact, the night we were dining there, they had just done a few whole lamb dinners a couple days earlier. Above you can see Chef Louis picking and separating out the meat, eyes, and tongues from several lamb heads. [links lead to rest of my photos from this to protect those that are squeamish]
I had an opportunity to check out Tavern Road last week during a media dinner that they hosted. It was a great opportunity not only to taste Chef Louis's current fall menu, but also to have a chance to talk to him and learn a little about his philosophy and thoughts behind the restaurant.
Louis shared with us a very special Whipped Lardo with Fig Jam. The lardo came from a pig that was raised by a local family who only raises a couple of pigs at a time with great care. According to Louis, these pigs are among the most beautiful ones he's ever seen. He has started the curing process for a lot of the meat from this pig, so I definitely look forward to some really incredibly tasting prosciutto and coppa to appear in a few months!
I found the lardo to be rich, buttery, yet light and airy.
The Sun Choke Soup ($12) was a rich, creamy soup anchored by the flavor of curry and accented by roasted walnuts and dried cranberries. It was creamy and surprisingly sweet, probably inherently from the sunchokes themselves. I found the flavors to be unusual yet interesting. I wished for just a tad more salt, though overall the soup was enjoyable.
When asked about favorite dishes of the night, more than one diner chose this soup.
Sautéed Mussels ($14) were cooked with prosciutto in a butternut squash and beer broth and sprinkled throughout with pomegranate seeds. The salty prosciutto did a good job of balancing out the butternut squash and beer broth, which was pretty sweet. Certain bites that didn't have prosciutto tasted too sweet and unbalanced, but the bites with proscuitto were quite good.
I loved the Risotto of Foraged Mushrooms, a dense, creamy risotto made with marscapone cheese and topped with pine nuts and a crispy chicken skin. Even though the risotto itself was already pretty good, the crispy chicken skin elevated it to another level. I loved both the textural crunch and the savory umami that accompanied each bite with the chicken skin.
Louis makes a chicken skin BLT which he serves during lunch at TR Street Foods, the take-out lunch stand adjacent to Tavern Road. Apparently, it has quickly become one of the most popular sandwiches on the menu. I'm not surprised. That chicken skin is pretty tasty.
Entrees at Tavern Road are pretty generously sized and do not include sides. Similar to a steak house model, you order your meat and then order sides that are easily shared. The beautiful Lamb Osso Buco ($24) was perfectly cooked and had beautiful flavors. The meat was super soft and easily fell off the bone. This dish was served over a chickpea puree with harissa and topped with Sparrow Arc radishes. Several of the diners chose this dish as their favorite.
The restaurant had recently hosted a whole lamb dinner the previous couple nights. They had an extra leg, which they served to us. This whole Leg of Lamb is good for 2-3 people and would cost in the ballpark of $50.
It was seriously huge. It's hard to get a sense when it's picture by itself, so I though I'd hold it up so you could see how gigantic it is. The leg was simply roasted and definitely had that characteristic gamey lamb flavor. I'm actually not a huge fan of that gaminess, so I didn't love the lamb. I preferred the lamb osso buco, which was not nearly as gamey. If Bryan had been there, I'm sure he would have loved it, since he loves lamb.
All of the sides at Tavern Road are vegetarian. My favorite was this pan fried White Sweet Potato Gnocchi ($8), which was tossed with Brussels sprouts, apples, and smoked maple. I especially enjoyed the chewy-on-the-inside yet crunchy pan-fried exterior of the gnocchi.
This hearty Spaetzle ($8), baked with Gruyere cheese and cherry peppers, was rich, heavy, and really reminded me of a fancy mac & cheese. It was pretty tasty though I didn't really taste any heat from the cherry peppers. It was hard to eat more than a few bites since it was so dense. Definitely share this one. It may look small, but it's rich!
Roasted Golden Beets and Cauliflower ($8), served with dates and horseradish, was OK but nothing particularly special. The beets were a bit pickled (or maybe vinegared) and the horseradish flavor was pretty mild.
All of their pastas are made from scratch in-house. The meat, of course, can come from all different sources depending on what whole animal is in the house. Pictured above is their House Made Tagliatelle with Smoky Pork Sausage Bolognese ($20). I did not get to taste this dish, unfortunately, so I can't comment on it, though it does look fantastic.
For a long time, Tavern Road did not have an official dessert program, offering just simple ice cream or a chocolate chip cookie at the end of the meal. More recently, they have hired a part-time pastry chef who used to work at Sel de la Terre. Now, the menu is full of comfort desserts, such as fruit tarts with ice cream, chocolate torts, various flavored ice creams, and a generous cookie plate.
Chef Louis said he wanted sundaes and cookies because "I'm a kid and that's what I wanted."
I did want to mention the beverage program, run by beverage director Ryan McGrale. Ryan McGrale comes from No. 9 Park and trained with some of the best mixologists in the world in New York City before coming to Tavern Road. I was extremely impressed with my cocktail, which is saying a lot, since I'm really picky about my cocktails (I hardly order cocktails at restaurants because I'm generally disappointed with them). They often get the overflow crowd from Drink, a craft cocktail bar just down the street, and probably surprise people with the quality of their drinks.
The server recommended that I try a drink that wasn't on the menu. For the life of me, I can't remember the exact ingredients, but I'm pretty sure it had maraschino, lime juice, mezcal, and aperol. It came with one of those huge ice cubes that almost takes up the entire glass. It was fantastic - definitely one of the better cocktails I've had in a long time.
All in all, Tavern Road is a fun restaurant. The people are friendly, the space is fun, and the food is enjoyable. I did find the noise level of the restaurant to be just a bit too loud for conversation across larger tables (though I had no trouble hearing the girl sitting next to me). I'm not sure if it was due to the loud music, the conversation levels, or a mixture of both.
I was most impressed with Chef Louis's expertise on meat. The charcuterie plate was by far my favorite item on the menu, with the lamb osso buco coming in a solid second. The appetizers and sides are fun, creative, and generally solid. The drinks are also excellent.
It's still early (Tavern Road has been open only since February 2013) and Chef Louis still has a ton of ideas up his sleeve for different fun things he wants to try at the restaurant (e.g., more whole animal dinners, a huge rotisserie in the open kitchen, etc). It's refreshing to see such excitement and energy, and I look forward to seeing what they do next.
Tavern Road 343 Congress St
Boston, MA 02210
Disclaimer - the cost of this media meal was paid for by Tavern Road.