Monday, August 12, 2013

Bergamot a Winning Addition to Somerville’s Restaurant Row

Somerville has long been recognized as a hub for fine dining. Bergamot, located at the outskirts of Inman Square, opened to near universal acclaim back in 2010 in the intimate space once occupied by EVOO (which now resides and thrives in its larger Kendall Square quarters). The eatery has also earned its way onto Boston Magazine’s annual list of Top 50 restaurants, in large part due to its progressive American cuisine and its top-notch service. When presented the opportunity to sample an abundance of Chef/co-owner Keith Pooler’s (formerly of Scampo, Excelsior, and Harvest) intriguing menu by way of an amazing Groupon special (seven course tasting for two at $75), Paul’s Palate couldn’t pass it up.

A complimentary amuse-bouche nicely opens the meal – a refreshing, juicy piece of melon topped with zucchini relish, its sweetness beautifully balanced by a subtly acidic dash of balsamic glaze. For such a small dish, it’s large in flavor and complex in technique, a harbinger of the meal to come. I’m admittedly anti-beet, usually finding the vegetable flavorless, but Bergamot spruces up, even re-invents how delicious it can be. They’re roasted here ($11), paired with less bitter, leafy escarole, orange-calaminta syrup, miniature Honshimeji mushrooms, pistachios for welcomed crunch, and a dreamy dollop of cream cheese. It’s a marvelous dish.

That’s not to say that there aren’t minor missteps along the way. While an appetizer of braised crimson carrots ($12), alongside black mission figs and a crispy chickpea flour crepe called socca are all delightful, accompanying Kamut (a khorasan wheat resembling rice) is a tad undercooked and tough, while an unappealing, bland spoonful of ricotta sitting atop the socca seems out of place. While Polish sausage is nicely smoked, the eggy/custard-like polenta over which it is served is completely offputting, although I think I understand and applaud Pooler’s attempt to execute a more sophisticated breakfast as dinner concept.

Fortunately, my memory is short and the list of menu offerings is long. I devour every last bite of the pan-seared Atlantic salmon ($27), masterfully prepared with a crisp exterior and a wonderfully moist, fleshy interior. The fish is innovatively paired with generous chunks of lobster, avocado, green beans, basil oil, and orange tomato vinaigrette. As the aforementioned beets made me a believer, this critic - who typically shies away from fish offerings when dining out - will be seeking out salmon more often. That’s the mark of a truly great restaurant: it pleasantly surprises you and smashes all pre-conceived notions about what food can be. A hearty bowl filled with long strings of tagliatelle, topped with melted mozzarella and sitting in a zesty tomato base with a medley of fresh vegetables, is also a winning, seasonal dish.

Pastry chef Stacy Mirabello’s confections confidently stand up against Pooler’s cuisine. A second, pre-dessert amuse-bouche consists of a refreshing, almost creamy mini scoop of red currant sorbet sitting atop shaved coconut. It’s delightful, and I want more, but am glad I save room for Mirabello’s chocolate bourbon bête noir ($10), essentially a rich, decadent flourless cake that’s paired with raspberry sorbet.

Bergamot’s inventive, expertly-crafted cocktails and extensive, award-winning wine list are not to be missed. The 1771 ($11) is a refreshing concoction of citadelle gin, orange curacao, rhubarb syrup, cardamom bitters, and sparkling wine, while the Beacon Fix ($10), with Reyka vodka, lemon, luxardo, and Bergamot-Rooisbos syrup is another subtly sweet winner. Wine Director Kai Gagnon’s selection – all of which is encased in a dual-zone refrigerator tucked behind the eatery’s bar, boasts an appealing number of varieties, including $12 glasses of a crisp, slightly peppery 2012 chenin blanc from France’s Loire Valley and a robust, fruity Italian 2011 Lambrusco di Modeno ‘Albone’ hailing from Tuscany.

A rotating wait staff will gladly cater to your every whim. Need a glass of water re-filled? No problem. “Would you like another slice of bread?” they happily inquire early on in the meal. “No more, thank you,” I wearily reply after ingesting a third slice topped with heavenly whipped mustard butter, even though deep down I’d like an entire loaf to myself. Each of our servers is attentive and incredibly meticulous about each dish’s ingredients (they recite these without missing a beat). Their level of hospitality not only demonstrates that they love the fun environment in which they work, but are enamored with the equally fun food that they serve their customers. When I ask one of our waiters if I could obtain information about that delightful Lambrusco wine I sampled earlier in the meal, he gladly writes it down and passionately describes its characteristics in more detail.

Given its relaxed ambience, playful and innovative fare, reasonable price point, and awe-inspiring service, Bergamot earns high praise from Paul’s Palate, though not likely as effusive as its professional, enthusiastic staff.

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