Tuesday, May 23, 2006

The Butcher Shop

I have been to Barbara Lynch's (of No. 9 Park fame) Butcher Shop in the South End before, but never armed with my brand new, food-inspired purchase. The Butcher Shop is directly across the street from another equally small, and equally excellent Barbara Lynch restaurant, B&G Oysters. The Butcher Shop, as the name would imply, really is a functioning shop, selling house-made charcuterie, neat things like fresh rabbit and duck, as well as some prepared foods until 8PM. By 8PM, it turns into the place to be. The wine bar with an extensive wine list at the front of the restaurant is always packed with every kind of fashionable person. The fashionable people waiting for one of the six or seven tables crowded around a huge butcher's block-topped table in the center of the room. This fashionable person waited with the ever-fabulous Kanchan, and her equally wonderful boyfriend, Shariff, around the table with a glass of Pinot, doing some truly excellent people watching. But more importantly, catching up. I haven't seen Shariff since January! Ridiculous. The attentive (and pixie-ish) hostess kept us apprised of the table situation, which was really nice of her considering the density of fashionable people in the restaurant on any Saturday night.
Once we were seated at a counter lining the front window, we began our evening with, well, more wine, but also with the Foie Terrine. There were two reasons for this choice: I cannot pass up foie gras, and the server recommended it. And right we both were. The terrine was served with toasted, buttered brioche and an apple cinnamon chutney. The terrine itself was a tender pink, with the telling layer of yellow fat sealing the top - believe it or not, a key finishing touch to any good terrine. The first taste of the brioche-chutney-foie gras combination was startling: it tasted just like apple pie! Really. The buttery brioche and the sweet cinnamon apples then gave way to the taste of melting, savory butter, which would be, of course, the foie gras. To say that it melted would not be an accurate description. It liquefied upon contact and spilled its richness throughout. So you see why I had to capitalize, and bold Foie Terrine?
We also had a salad, but frankly, I don't have the time to describe a salad. Although it was quite good, don't get me wrong.
Gnocchi are very frequently described as "little pillows" of potato-based pasta dough. Not until last Saturday night have I ever agreed with that description. These were by far and away the best gnocchi I have ever had (and I have been around the gnocchi block, believe me). They were light, almost airy, and silky smooth. There was none of the gumminess or heaviness that one so commonly encounters with common gnocchi. Oh no. These were different. Also lacking was the overwhelming nutmeg flavor that so many gnocchi-makers think is the "secret ingredient" that sets their dish apart. Little tip: it doesn't. These gnocchi dissolved in the mouth and did not overpower the sauce with their flavor. They really were "little pillows" that served as silken and subtly pasta-flavored vehicles for the rabbit ragout they were suspended in. Oh yes, rabbit ragout. The rabbit was in small pieces thus avoiding seeming bulky and falling outside of the category of a pasta accessory. The fresh peas sprinkled throughout were nice bites of firm green (I am big on the color contrast in presentations, have you noticed?) that helped to balance the richness of the dish. One last thing: the gnocchi were sprinkled (doesn't seem like quite the right word, does it?) with cracked black peppercorns.The occasional sharp burst of really, really fresh black pepper was an interesting contrast (again!) to the creaminess of the gnocchi and the surrounding tender rabbit. I really enjoyed my dinner, could you tell? On to Kanchan's choice. How I wish that I could actually describe this for you in detail, but sadly, I can't. The time has come for me to confess one of the few things that stand in the way of my eating professionally (it can be done!). I don't eat pork. It's ok to breathe out now. So, as much as I would like to relate the taste-related details of the caramelized, medium-rare pork chop you see in the picture above, I can't. Maybe Kanchan can comment on it? Hint, Kanchan. I can tell you that it was cooked to temperature, as I mentioned, and the sauce involved grapefruit. Pork is frequently paired with fruit, but rarely citrus. Although what do I know about that... Sad.
Proceeding directly to Shariff's choice, tenderloin with potato millefeuille. I am calling it millefeuille because that is what it looks like and I forgot what was written on the menu - sorry, I am still learning. Here, I felt a small change occur in my life. I actually enjoyed this steak. As Jonathan can attest, I have tried every steak every friend of mine has ever ordered in hopes of liking it. Why can't I just like steak?? Everyone else does. I feel left out. This steak was different from the rest. The texture was so smooth and soft that there was no effort necessary in chewing it. It tasted like essence of beef - and I don't mean this in a negative way. It was a concentrated taste of incredibly juicy meat, with just a hint of the metallic taste of blood. I really don't mean to be gross, but I don't think you can describe steak without mentioning the blood that makes it what it is. I will keep on trying other people's steak, but at the Butcher Shop, I would order it for my own.
A number of desserts were offered on the menu, most of them wisely kept in the "light" category. Above you see rhubarb, strawberry, and red wine soup. I wish I could remember the identity of the cream swimming on top, but by this point we were at the end of our second bottle of excellent Bordeaux. Maybe Kanchan remembers? The soup was smooth, and velvety - like a super thick smoothie. The astringency of the rhubarb was tempered by the strawberries, and the entire mixture was sweetened just to the point of remaining light and refreshing. It was the perfect conclusion to the meal.
But, as you may have guessed, the conclusion it was not. There were still chocolate crepes with Grand Marnier-scented marscapone. Although this dessert again contained a cream component, it avoided feeling heavy. The marscapone was light, almost the consistency of whipped cream. The pronounced Grand Marnier orange flavor played off the very, very subtle (ok, I didn't taste much) chocolate of the crepes and chocolate sauce. To be honest, if I had tasted a more robust chocolate flavor, I may have slipped into a full-blown food coma. So it's a good thing it was subtle.
I wish I could guarantee that the next visitor to the Butcher Shop will be able to try the things that I described here, but that is not likely. The small menu is made up daily. All but four of the house specials are different every night, allowing for fresh, seasonal food and maximal attention paid to each dish. I think it is time that I pointed out that we ordered and tried everything on the menu that night, save for one salad and maybe a couple of desserts. I am so proud of us.

P.S. I should probably mention that I lifted the picture of the restaurant from their website.


anthony griffiths said...

you don't eat pork. I couldn't eat rabbit (bunny).

Anna said...

That all looked beyond amazing (especially the steak). You definately have a flair for restaurant reviews. Keem them coming - it's a great way to start off my day :)

Jonathan said...

You will soon be a seasoned steak eater...and soonafter, you will be cooking a great steak in the comfort of your own home. If you can handle infected mice, you can handle a nice porterhouse. Onwards and upwards.

Kanchan said...

Anna, I am utterly impressed with the accuracy with which you describe each dish. If only I could stop guzzling wine as if I were about to be banned from the cellar forever, I may actually remember the nuanced flavors of the food. Thanks for reminding me!