Thursday, February 15, 2007

Coriander Review

On a brisk, pre-Valentine’s Day evening, my wife and I venture out to Coriander Bistro for a hopefully heartwarming experience. According to several close acquaintances of ours, Coriander, located in the quaint suburb of Sharon, Massachusetts, happens to be one the South Shore’s – if not the state’s – trendiest, upscale restaurants. It has also apparently infused a much needed element of hipness to the town center’s rather blasé setting since its inception several years ago. But did this lauded establishment meet Paul’s Palate?

From the outset, Coriander’s atmosphere is simply intoxicating. Upon entering, we are instantly greeted by Coriander’s co-owner, Jill Crawley. She is genuinely warm and welcoming, possessing neither the stuffiness nor the feigned graciousness that some of the elite Boston-based restaurants cannot seem to avoid. From its exterior, Coriander’s physical space does not appear suited to serve a large number of clientele. The pristine, wooden interior, however, with its Cathedral-like ceilings, creates a magnificent illusory effect that makes the room appear more expansive than it actually is. The dimmed track lighting is just right, adding to the overall romantic, intimate ambience. From the instantly-viewable kitchen emanate aromas which only arouse our interest and stoke our appetites.

The service itself is nothing short of perfection, and elevates what could have been a merely good dining experience into a most memorable one. Our server is personable, attentive, polished, and extremely knowledgeable about the menu, not only making pinpoint recommendations, but also taking my wife’s dairy allergies into account, which is not a given at upscale restaurants. While we remain seated for two hours, our meals are served at a leisurely pace that enables us to comfortably ingest our potent martinis (the pomegranate, in particular), dishes, and the enjoyable atmosphere itself.

Appetizers leave us salivating and anxiously awaiting our entrees. For starters, our server provides us with a pre-appetizer treat – or more aptly – a tease. As a courtesy of the chef, we sip on a particularly scrumptious, somewhat spicy spoonful of ginger carrot soup. From there, the handcrafted gnocci’s slightly rubbery texture meshes wonderfully with a unique blend of light, savory tomato broth and sliky-soft chunks of braised ribs, and this is unequivocally the standout dish of the evening. My wife’s wild mushroom tartlet with boar sausage is perfectly warmed and not overly flaxy, a tendency inferior concoctions tend to have.

Entrees are almost equally divine and portions more than generous. I would have preferred my Long Island Duck “Two Ways” served as only “One Way.” While the meat on the bone is moist, the task of actually getting to it proves to be difficult. The skin is unbearably buttery, and prohibits full enjoyment in conjunction with the meat itself. The other half of the duck is entirely off the bone, and cooked perfectly medium rare. The accompanying spatzle and asparagus tips are simple and fun, and do not overpower the duck itself. My wife’s succulent thick cut pork chop, however, is the far superior dish, with its blend of artichokes, pickled shallots, roasted potatoes, and garlic sauce.

We finish with a dessert that comes highly touted by our server, and it would be an understatement if we said she is spot-on with her suggestion. A raspberry lindsor torte served warm with graham cracker ice cream melts in the mouth. I am left licking my fork and craving more of this delectable dish.

Value is reasonable, but in the eyes of the beholder. Prices are moderately high, and on par with upscale Boston eateries, less the city’s exorbitant valet parking fees. The quality of the fare, however, does not suffer given the shift to a suburban setting. For convenience alone, diners can experience a gourmet meal here without the additional stresses of traffic and parking, which are no doubt burdensome and can diminish any Boston fine dining experience. While I am a bit flustered that the 3-course, $30 Prix Fixe currently posted on Coriander’s website is no longer available (we are told that this was only a summer option), this slight faux pas does not ruin a perfect evening.

Only two tables are seated when we arrive at Coriander, but not one is empty upon our departure, and it is understandable to see why. Coriander’s allure is its ability to bring gourmet food out to the suburbs without the pretentiousness. With its refreshingly chic menu and convenient location in Sharon center, it is no wonder why this hotspot has deservedly earned rave reviews. A little birdie recently chirped into my ear that Coriander may be up for sale. Let us hope that my feathered friend was misinformed, as this fine establishment unquestionably meets Paul’s Palate.