Monday, April 10, 2017

An Avenue Worth Driving To for Fine Dining

Avenue, the brainchild of husband and wife Josh and Jessica Foley (the couple met during their stint at the long-esteemed Harvard Square restaurant, Harvest, during the mid-90s), opened in the epicenter of Medfield in May, 2016, and as evidenced by one very busy Saturday evening, the eatery has hit the ground running and never looked back. The Foleys envisioned a modern, casual bistro, and they’ve certainly accomplished that in terms of Avenue’s ambience. The building in which it resides was renovated, whose floor-to-ceiling windows provide a stunning view of Main Street and the nearby Medfield Town House. Pleasant, smoky aromas emanate from the open kitchen, namely from a wood-burning oven. My lone complaints, albeit minor: the front of the house can be a bit chaotic and cramped at peak times, especially if the small bar area happens to be full of patrons. Nearby are small booths reserved for customers eating dinner, and it’s easier than not to bump into busy servers. Also, in spite of recently installed acoustical ceiling panels, conversations can still remain challenging.

                Josh Foley, who also does double-duty as Executive Chef, offers seasonal American cuisine, from wood grilled flatbreads and meats to seafood, in his attempt to recreate California’s farm-to-table concept. In most instances, I am delighted to affirm that the Foleys have succeeded.  Let’s begin with the bad news: potato crusted Point Judith calamari ($12) does the Rhode Island squid a disservice. While accompanying fried sweet onions and peppers are an inventive touch, the fish’s buttermilk coating is bland and could benefit from some seasoning in the form of salt and pepper, while the tepid tartar sauce adds little anticipated heat. Much better are the wood-roasted flatbreads ($14-16), whose nicely charred crust can be attributed to imported Italian flour incorporated into a pie that is cooked at 750 degrees for only three minutes in that impressive wood-burning oven. The aptly named Avenue consists of house made pork sausage, wild mushroom, and onion jam. The jam’s sweetness meshed well with the spiciness of the meat, whereas the kitchen’s heavy-handedness on the mushrooms resulted in soggier slices than I’d preferred. My personal favorite was the unique and satisfyingly spicy shrimp fra diavolo.

                Entrees were even more enticing, starting with a generous serving of sausage orecchiette ($22), the pasta served perfectly al dente, with minced, spicy house fennel sausage. My dining companion believed the accompanying broccoli rabe was too bitter for the dish, but I politely disagreed, believing the vegetable a worthy partner to the spicy meat in terms of its flavor and textural contrast. While the slightly dense potato gnocchi ($22) could have benefitted from another minute or two of boiling to render the pasta more pillowy and light, I nearly forgot about that having consumed a forkful of thin, ultra-tender sliced short rib, which in this version is playfully served atop the pasta in lieu of being cooked inside. Cast iron seared Scottish salmon ($27) also drew considerable applause, consisting of a generous portion of moist fish seasoned with herbed farro and Tuscan kale.

                But one cannot – I repeat, cannot leave Avenue without sampling their signature wood-roasted Argentinian Brasa Natural chicken. I, for one, have remarkably never ordered chicken out. While I certainly appreciate a well-cooked bird, it’s undoubtedly less appealing than other, sexier options (lamb, duck) and delicious enough when grilled at home. But upon stealing a glance of the dish at a nearby table, I just had to have it, and I’m glad I did. According to our polite waitress, the incredibly tender meat is attributed to how the bird is prepared, hung for six hours and then slow cooked in front of that wood-burning oven’s flame. The dish’s presentation is nothing short of stunning, evoking envy from the table. Inventive accoutrements include a layer of crisp almonds, sweet currants, roasted Anjour pear (which admittedly lost some its sweetness during the cooking process), and what’s humorously labeled grilled peasant bread salad (a fancy term for Avenue’s house bread that is sliced into small chunks with the bird’s charred scallion juices cooked into them; The result? Gooey, crispy, goodness). The dish is exemplary in terms of its stunning presentation, technique, and execution, and it’s nothing short of a miracle that it makes me consider ordering chicken the next time I dine out.

                While desserts (all $9) may not be as exciting as that chicken, they provide an enjoyable conclusion to the evening. Ricotta cheesecake is thankfully not overly dense, served with strawberries, balsamic, basil cream and almonds. The inner child in me allows me to gravitate towards the butterscotch blondie sundae, a warm, gooey, yet ultra-thin slice served with a dollop of sea salt ice cream and peanut brittle.

                Inventive cocktails ($12) from the bar feature a potent riff on the Mai Tai called the Mai oh Mai, blended with white rum, toasted cinnamon, and pineapple. While I was disappointed that the Fig Get About It (made with fig-infused rye) was out of stock that night, the bartender graciously went off-menu to concoct a subtly sweet, rye-infused cocktail called the Toronto that I’d highly recommend. Roughly five selections of white and red wine are available by the glass ($9-12), including a smooth, silky ’14 Noble Tree Cabernet out of Sonoma. About ten or so different New England drafts and bottled and canned beers ($6-8) are also available, including a light refreshing Queen City Brewery pale lager.

                Service is knowledgeable, friendly, and - with the exception of a delayed bread basket to the table and a couple of late-arriving cocktails – attentive. Pair that with fairly reasonable price points for well-executed cuisine in a chic suburban setting, and voila: Avenue is an address I won’t soon be forgetting.