Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Is this 'Fireplace' Blowing Smoke?

The Fireplace, located in the heart of Washington Square (Beacon St) in Brookline, has been a popular dining destination to which many locals have flocked since its inception in 2001. Owner/chef Jim Solomon’s restaurant has received numerous accolades for his New American menu whose emphasis is placed upon wood-smoked and rotisserie-style comfort food. But did you know that the Fireplace offers up a much-revered brunch menu? Neither did Paul’s Palate. He therefore decided to conduct a surprise emergency inspection to more accurately gauge whether this Fireplace’s brunch runs hot or cold.

The eatery’s ambience is a tad perplexing. Its copper and wrought iron space, which is accentuated by a large fireplace, certainly feels homey enough. The restaurant resides, however, on two levels, and seating on the first floor is tight. Also, the cathedral-like ceilings and accompanying acoustics appear to contradict Solomon’s intention of creating a more intimate atmosphere.

Minor architectural gaffes aside, the food is what my inspection truly revolves around, and overall, I am pleased to report in my findings that the Fireplace receives a passing grade. For starters, a cup of scallop and clam chowder is a real-crowd pleaser given its creamy consistency and heaping portions of scallops and bacon. The only shortcoming I could find is that I should have ordered an entire bowl. A sampling of the chilled summer gazpacho also passes my taste bud test with flying colors, as it is refreshingly light but packs just enough zip.

Entrees are equally good, and demonstrate how Solomon is able to elevate basic comfort food by infusing them with a burst of unique, mouth-watering ingredients. Checking your calories? Have a fig, peach and apple salad with frisee, arugula, candied almonds laced with strawberry vinaigrette. If cholesterol is not an issue, how about challah French toast with apricot almond cheese? Want to stick with the bread family? The show-stopper of the meal is a portion of crispy corn waffles soaked with rum, bananas, brown sugar, and apple cider syrup. This is one of those signature dishes where one’s eyes close in total bliss.

This inspector, however, found a couple of items not to his liking, and had it not been for the overall quality of the final product, he may well have shut this operation down. For one, our empty water glasses and coffee cups were too often neglected by our server. Second, the kitchen itself might benefit from a real health inspector, as evidenced by an initial serving of waffles that came out inedibly cold, while a small pitcher of cream was slightly curdled. These errors were swiftly rectified, apologies were immediately and sincerely issued by the manager, and order was restored in brunch universe.

Value-wise, the Fireplace gives me a warm, toasty feeling. Appetizers range from $6-$9, while entrees average between $10-$12. As long as Paul’s Palate isn’t burning through his wallet for an above-average breakfast, this is a cozy ‘Fireplace’ he finds much to his liking.

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