Friday, October 28, 2011

Zebra’s Earns its Stripes

Have you ever been to a restaurant that wasn’t at all what you expected? And in a good way? Zebra’s Bistro and Wine Bar, located on North Main Street in Medfield, surprised me on multiple levels. From its trendy interior, to its eclectic, New American cuisine, to its superior service, and mind you, all at a reasonable price point, this Metrowest suburban hotspot made me feel as if I were dining in Boston, less the distance and parking valet fees.

If you can overlook the restaurant’s confusing parking situation (the back parking lot cannot be accessed from North Main Street itself but a street over), Zebra’s does not disappoint, particularly in ambience. The entryway opens into an expansive lounge and bar area, packed with affluent suburbanites sipping and smiling the evening away. Who knew Medfield was such a happening town? A short walk leads to a smaller private dining area on the right-hand side, and then to the main dining room, which boasts walls splashed with warm, welcoming hues of orange and yellow and are adorned with several paintings. Several tables are surrounded by yellow and black embroidered chairs resembling zebra stripes (get it?). The room comes off as casual, yet cool.

As for the food, it’s innovative and most often, delicious. Take, for instance, the appetizers, which included pulled pork tostadas with guacamole and pepper jack cheese ($9.95), a unique, fun take on the traditional Mexican dish that left me scraping every last morsel off of my plate. Arancini (risotto stuffed with mozzarella and prosciutto, served with pomodoro sauce, for $10.95) was almost equally as good.

Thin crust pizzas utilized different ingredients as well, such as the promising lobster and black fig mission pizza with aged blue cheese, roasted corn and scallion essence ($19.95). While I applaud Zebra’s kitchen for employing such bold flavors, the pie was overpoweringly sweet and dense for my taste, as I could only muster a couple of bites. It was far too ‘busy’ of a dish and a mild disappointment.

Entrees, however, put the kitchen back on track. Beef short ribs over horseradish mashed potatoes ($24.95) were not only plentiful, but also packed tremendous flavor and tenderness, unlike several versions I’ve tasted (the meat was soaked in red wine for 24 hours ahead of time). In lieu of a traditional side of rice, saffron paella was served over risotto accompanied by generous, fresh portions of shrimp, clams, mussels, salmon, and spicy chorizo (a steal at $24.95). My only minor quibble with the dish was that the saffron itself was barely detectable (although our server did warn us about this, and given my experience with saffron, large amounts would need to be incorporated into the dish to make a dent flavor-wise).

For dessert, a seasonal pumpkin cake with buttercream frosting ($7), provided to Zebra’s fresh that day from the bakery across the street, was a comforting conclusion to our meal.

Service at Zebra’s bordered on spectacular. Our server was pleasant, patient, and extremely knowledgeable of the entire menu. She walked us through a reasonably priced, extensive wine selection that included roughly seventy red and fifty white varieties. A bottle of 2007 Hahn Estates (produced in Monterey) provided tremendous value at $39 for this smooth, subtle Bordeaux/Meritage blend. Several other seasonal cocktails included the Red Delicious (cherry bourbon, apple liquer, Chambord, and cranberry, served straight up). About a dozen beer selections as well as cold sake for the more adventurous drinkers are also featured.

Zebra’s owners, upon opening its doors in 1999, sought to re-capture the vibrant, intimate feel of the South End neighborhood they previously inhabited. Given their establishment’s convenient location, commendable fare, and outstanding service, I’d say they’ve accomplished their mission. Zebra’s makes Paul’s Palate’s taste buds – to paraphrase musician Prince – party like it’s 1999.