Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Trade is Sophisticated Fun

Celebrity chef Jody Adams has struck culinary gold yet again in the form of her new urban brasserie, Trade, set in a renovated brick building whose setting is as sleek and sexy as the wonderfully innovative food coming out of the kitchen.

Trade’s ambience can be best described as casually upscale. The restaurant itself is funky and fun, as evidenced by reclaimed pine tables and countertops, along with lightbulb fixtures dangling overhead. A long, lively bar extends to the back of the eatery, while a smaller, more intimate dining room – with impressive two-story windows overlooking Atlantic Avenue, is located at the front. Although Trade is located in a seemingly tranquil section of the Financial District (nearby landmarks include South Station and the Federal Reserve), the scene inside is quite lively. Noise level is moderate, but certainly tolerable for conversation.

If you can snag a bar seat in front of the kitchen’s Wood stone gas oven, consider yourself a lucky customer. It’s there where Executive Chef Andrew Hebert – who joined Adams after a longtime stint at her flagship restaurant, Cambridge’s Rialto – works his magic. Take for instance, a couple of small plates – playfully labeled on the menu A Little Extra – which include a serving of Scallion pancakes with sesame and chili dipping sauce ($7). The pancakes are razor thin, well-seasoned, crispy-crunchy discs, not your average Chinese food variety that are typically ultra-doughy and bland. Even better are crispy fingerling potatoes with paprika and cumin ($5). These spuds are oily, piping hot, slightly sweet, and tremendously addictive. Paired with a stiff cocktail, I’d have been content consuming these all evening long.

Some appetizers, while not prepared in that wonderful stove, are equally appealing, where Adams and Hebert put this own unique stamp on more traditional fare. Grilled squid with beans, olives, and vinegar peppers ($9) is nicely seasoned and served salad-like in a bowl, while a pair of fried tentacles are placed in the center, like a cruel joke to remind us that calamari indeed lives on. Creamy avocado topped with sweet green mango-tamarind-peanut chutney ($8) instantly gained admirers tableside for its delicate balance of soft-crunchy texture and mild-spicy flavor.

Back to the oven, a whole roasted trout ($24) was a marvel to behold in both presentation and bold flavor. The fish possessed a crackling skin exterior and a moist flesh interior, and was topped with a unique combination of slaw and raisins that somehow manage to complement the fish. “Why didn’t I think of using these ingredients when cooking fish?” one dining companion remarks. My personal favorite: steaming-hot, hearty baked rigatoni served in a large cast-iron pot, with generous chunks of lamb ragu and provolone ($22). The pasta is nicely browned and cooked al dente with just the right proportion of chewiness to crispiness, and packs a welcomed, subtle heat due to the incorporation of chili flakes. Like those addictive potatoes preceding it, this is a fantastically executed, extremely tasty dish that rivals any pasta in the nearby North End. Also rivaling any pie produced in the North End are Trade’s pizzas – recognized here as Flatbreads – which possess some of the finest crusts in all of Boston. A version of mushroom and figs with gorgonzola, sage, pesto and walnuts ($16) is a crispy, creamy, smoky delight.

While desserts may not deliver the same stratospheric levels of complexity as the plates preceding them, they deliver bold flavors nonetheless. While a Taza chocolate budino ($10) was a tad too pudding-y in texture for my taste, its seasoning with seasalt, rosemary, and butter made for a bittersweet, salty treat, accompanied by a thin, crispy sesame wafer for dipping. While a couple of dining companions swooned over a dairy-free baked Alaska ($10), I found the merengue exterior itself merely average while gravitating more towards the wonderfully chilly, almost creamy interior packed with chocolate and coconut sorbet.

Cocktails were skillfully crafted and stiff. A refreshing rhubarb daiquiri infused with house-made rhubarb-vanilla sauce was a tad too sweet and not quite tart enough for my liking. My favorite was a spicy-sweet pomegranate martini over ice, laced with hints of cilantro, charred pineapples and chilies. It was the perfect complement to those addictive potatoes.

Service was nothing short of exceptional. Our waitress, who possesses a delightful British accent and even more delightful, witty sense of humor, confidently steered us to the perfect dishes and drink pairings. We ultimately decide to forego our tables in the dining room just so that we can remain in her company throughout the evening.

Trade delivers on the mile-high expectations that heralded its much-anticipated arrival last year. The service, atmosphere, and the food at this eatery is sophisticated, yet fun, and that is why I wouldn’t trade my experience at Trade for anything – except, maybe, those mesmerizing potatoes

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