Dining Out: Evoo

The location may have changed, but chef Peter McCarthy’s cuisine still keeps diners on their toes.

IT TAKES GUTS TO OPEN A restaurant like Evoo — an idiosyncratic, chef-owned place with a style all its own. When it debuted 12 years ago, chef Peter McCarthy and his wife, Colleen, were taking a big chance, hoping customers would still go for the sort of freewheeling fusion that marked mid-’80s cuisine, when chefs were jumbling southwestern, pan-Asian, and French flavors with a kind of cheerful disregard. In 1998 McCarthy’s embrace of this type of cooking seemed retro, but his commitment to buying as much local produce and meat as he could was far ahead of the times.

[sidebar]For the next decade or so, Evoo stayed the course. And the couple’s customers stayed with them, coming regularly to the spare, handsome, welcoming restaurant on the Cambridge-Somerville line. The McCarthys also showed their business savvy. In 2004 they opened Arlington’s Za, serving crowd-pleasing, chock-full-o’-toppings pizzas to very happy patrons.

Now they’ve relocated Evoo, paired with another outpost of Za, to big new quarters in the middle of Kendall Square. (I suspect that Evoo survives in part because of its sister restaurant, which has quickly found a young, lively clientele that needed someplace just like Za.)

I’m glad the pair has flourished, even though McCarthy’s brand of fusion, however cheerful, is too jumbled for my taste. There’s a careening variety of influences on the plate; you’re never sure if the next bite is going to be Korean, French, Indian, or Japanese. His packed plates are reminiscent of the old Todd English–style excess, and the literal piling of food is reminiscent of long-outmoded vertical cuisine. But McCarthy knows how to cook. He likes big flavors. And when they all come together, you remember why the English style meant lines out the door: You almost feel a rush, feel powerfully satisfied, and find yourself devouring enormous portions.

I’m also glad that Bostonians now have easier access to McCarthy’s quirky cuisine, particularly the beef. When it comes to steak at Evoo, you don’t almost feel a rush — it is a rush. Take parsley-and-garlic-studded beef tenderloin served with sour-cream-and-butter-loaded whipped potatoes and grilled portobellos ($31), a dish McCarthy has had on the menu since day one. His beef may not be local (too expensive), but it’s luscious. The same goes for the bavette steak from Vermont, grilled and accompanied by double-cooked fried potatoes smoked between fryings ($25). This is Big Umami, and it’s irresistible. Whether the sauce is orange béarnaise or habanero hollandaise, you forget all you’ve ever heard about cholesterol and dig in.

Red meat, hot sauces, fried stuff — that’s where McCarthy is most on his game. Often, though, the piling-on of components means incoherent dishes and uneven execution. This is the danger when a menu is this long and changes almost nightly. In addition to three starters and three main dishes that are always on hand, Evoo features a lengthy, hyperseasonal “home-grown menu.” It’s a good deal at $38 for three courses, or $55 paired with wine; these items are also available à la carte ($25 for entrées, $10 for appetizers).