Thursday, August 4, 2016

This Passport Worth Renewing for Global Culinary Adventure

One need not to hope aboard an airplane to sample some of the finest global cuisine this region has experienced in some time. While passports can be left behind, hungry customers can head over to Weymouth Landing’s aptly-named Passport, an intimate eatery which opened back in 2013, that prides itself on an eclectic selection of international tapas, and is helmed by owner Neil Kiley, who also runs Quincy’s popular Fat Cat restaurant.

                The entrance opens up to a small bar up front with a handful of tables for diners interested in viewing bustling Washington Street outside through the large windows, while the main dining area resides in the back. If you’re looking to dine with a large group (i.e. 10 or more), take note: the restaurant is not all that large, does not take reservations, and will not seat parties until everyone has arrived. Wall murals capturing scenes from abroad along with suitcase decorations set the stage for a culinary journey that spans across multiple countries and continents.

                The menu is divided, perhaps too much so, in a way that encourages groups to share plates and experience a wealth of flavors. They fall into categories such as teasers (very small bites, $3-6), tasters (small bites, $6-10), smalls (appetizers, $8-14), and shares (entrees, $18-22). Teasers offer a promising glimpse of what’s to come, highlighted by a delectable Thai-pumpkin coconut soup ($3), a small plate that while only affording about a half dozen spoonfuls, oh what memorable spoonfuls they are! The pumpkin base, custard-like in texture, contains a subtle heat that emanates from an infusion of cumin and cayenne, and which is superbly balanced by the sweetness of fresh coconut flakes. If afforded the opportunity, I would gladly had licked every last drop of the soup off of the small plate, an opinion with which our entire table concurred. Equally strong were fried octopus with arrabiata sauce ($6), the tentacled fish expertly coated (that is possessing a light, not excessively mealy texture) and tender, while swimming in a pool of nicely seasoned, tangy tomato base. Less successful were rather bland smoked whitefish croquettes ($6). While this category of fish is not particularly flavorful to begin with, it lacked that promised smokiness to better pair with the accompanying roasted garlic lemon aioli, and was ultimately the least impressive dish of the evening.

                Tasters were a bit lackluster compared to its predecessors, including grilled lamb skewers with couscous salad ($10) which featured well-cooked, if slightly under-seasoned meat. The disappointing empanadas ($6), while featuring a well-prepared flaky exterior, ultimately gave way to under-seasoned, un-spicy meat (although another bite from a tablemate’s other empanada proved much tastier,   consistency across the plate was lacking).

                Fortunately, smalls more than made up for the tasters’ shortcomings. A house special of flatbread topped with cheese, a wonderfully zesty tomato base, spicy corn, and caramelized onions was a pie whose sweet and spicy flavor combination resulted in it being quickly devoured by our table. Jamaican pork tostada was also a marvelous take on the Caribbean staple, featuring wonderfully tender shredded beef laced with a mango BBQ with some kick served atop a crunchy giant shell, the textures wonderfully meshing together. A heaping dish of seafood paella ($22) yielded an abundance of fresh shrimp, scallops, mussels, that phenomenal octopus, and spicy chorizo served over wonderfully al dente crispy calaspara rice – just how authentic Spanish paella should be prepared. What was troubling, however – particularly for the vegetarian in our party – is that the menu explicitly left off the chorizo, and when our server checked with the kitchen, he confirmed it was not part of the dish. While delicious for us meat consumers, that was a major faux pas that requires immediate attention on the kitchen’s part.

                Desserts ($4-8) were nothing short of outstanding, led by incredible crispy, flaky churros ($8) accompanied by a trio of dipping sauces including spicy chocolate, salted caramel, and chantilly cream. While the dipping sauces are certainly a bonus, the inherent sweetness and magnificent texture of the doughnuts made for one of the finest versions I’ve sampled since my more gluttonous days dipping them in cafĂ© con chocolate in the cafes of Seville, Spain. Also noteworthy were Neil’s Nachos (named after Passport’s owner, $8), which consisted of fried wonton chips topped with bananas, fresh berries medley, and a piping hot maple bourbon sauce that like the aforementioned coconut soup, I’d gladly lick every last drop.

                Inventive, well-executed cocktails ($9-11) are prepared by an incredibly knowledgeable, affable, enthusiastic bartended, including the playfully titled Carmen Sandiego ($11), a sweet, spicy, yet refreshing summer beverage I’d gladly travel around the world in search of, consisting of tequila, fresh lime, watermelon juices, agave nectar, and muddled Serrano pepper. The Muddler ($10) holds true to its name, enabling customers to “pick your poison” by selecting from rum or tequila with mint, peppers, guava, pineapple, watermelon, and blackberries. A dining companion’s resulting watermelon mojito is sublime. I glance at a bottle of house-made Applewood bacon smoked bourbon, and the bartender insists he can produce the best Manhattan/Old Fashioned I’ve ever tasted. I concur: served along with a slice of candied bacon whose salty, sweety flavor cuts into the bourbon’s smokiness, the cocktail is one of the smoothest I’ve ever consumed – it was complex and simply divine. A coco-mo (rum with coconut juice and froth, pineapple juice, shaken over ice) nearly rivaled the fantastic version I recently tasted in Puerto Rico.

                Seafood paella snafu aside, our server was also highly knowledgeable of the menu, friendly, and spaced out multiple plates throughout the evening that allowed our table to truly enjoy our dining experience. Weymouth’s Passport has successfully managed to bring global cuisine right to our front step. Given its eclectic menu, reasonable price points, and fun ambience, I won’t be traveling abroad anytime soon to obtain my international food fix – I now have my own personal Passport to relish.

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