Monday, August 1, 2011

Seasons Greetings from Summer Winter

No matter the season, Summer Winter will surely please any foodie’s palate, particularly Paul’s Palate. Owners Clark Frasier and Mark Gaier, the dynamic culinary duo behind highly acclaimed Maine eatery, Arrows, made shockwaves in the Boston dining scene a few years ago, not only because of their decision to open their sister restaurant in the Greater Boston area, but by taking a risk by doing so in a Burlington-based Marriott, of all places. While the restaurant clearly lacks Arrows’ romantic ambience given its suburban setting (oddly located behind an Irish pub within the hotel), it more than accounts for with its freshly prepared, innovative fare.

True to the restaurant’s name, the modern American menu boasts seasonal, locally produced items. In fact, diners can openly view many of the herbs, vegetables, and spices that are incorporated into their meals by peeking at the on-site greenhouse residing at the back of the dining room (that’s a plus, given the modern-looking, yet relatively non-descript hotel interior sans a couple of pictures of produce adorning the walls). And oh, do these ingredients ever take center stage. Frasier and Gaier certainly utilize a unique array of them, but in a restrained, technically sound manner.

Take, for instance, small bites (a steal at $3.50 apiece) that include ‘Strange Flavored’ Eggplant served with warmed pita bread, a hummus-like spread in texture with hints of Thai spices. It’s a revelatory dish that had my wife and I licking every last drop off of our plates and craving more. Sweet and sour roasted cipollini’s (onions) and mushrooms with Arrows Bacon also popped with flavor, although I wished more of than a half dozen small morsels of the wonderfully smoked meat adored the plate to offset the acidity of the vegetables. Tuna tartar ($16) was the lone, albeit minor misstep foodwise. The tuna on its own was underseasoned, but when paired with Middle Eastern spiced onions and cumin yogurt, showed notable improvement. The accompanying garden frisee was nothing more than superfluous, dried-out lettuce.

Entrees truly showcased Frasier and Gaier’s culinary talents and aspirations. If you think the brown sugar and rhubarb brined pork chop ($28) slathers these ingredients atop the meat, you’d be missing the point. These ingredients are cooked into the meat, making for one of the most moist, smoky, and perfectly grilled chops you’ll find in this area. A side starch of Mom’s corn custard is as mouth-wateringly appealing as it sounds and likely better than anything produced out of your own mother’s kitchen (my apologies if I have offended any mothers reading this article, mine included). This concoction resembles cornbread, only far less cakey and much moister, with actual pieces of corn cooked directly into the custard. It could just as easily pose as dessert, and like the aforementioned eggplant, left me seeking more. Another stellar dish included the MC Whole Fried Trout ($26), impressively de-boned and layered with sesame seeds, scallions, and a surprisingly subtle, well-flavored Chinese black bean sauce. It’s lovely to look at and even lovelier to eat. Who needs a romantic setting when food this sexy is served tableside?

Desserts are equally inspired, particularly a blueberry upside down cake with lemon mousse ice cream and blueberry sauce (with fresh blueberries tucked into the small scoop of ice cream). The moist cake thankfully not as dense as it sounds, but surely is as decadent.

Service was relatively smooth with the exception of bringing out an incorrect entrée, mistaking my pork chop for a ribeye. The General Manager ultimately came out, profusely apologized, and generously comped not only my meal but our desserts. With that said, by the time she approached our table, my wife had nearly finished her trout, but she proceeded to offer to take back the dish and cook up a new one, an offer that should have been extended immediately after my ribeye dish was removed). Cocktails, too, priced at $12, were a major disappointment, particularly promising Sangria with fresh spices that possessed little, if any flavor. Stick with wine selections, from which there are 150 to choose, many of which are reasonably priced.

If you can’t make your way to Arrows in Maine, then Summer Winter is a nice consolation prize. Its hotel setting may not be fashionable, but inspired cuisine at affordable prices always is, no matter the season.