Dining Out: Bergamot
Keith Pooler’s new Somerville restaurant is a lovely place to dine – even if it overdoes the whimsy.
shapes. But there weren’t enough of the beets, and with an excessively sweet dried apricot-ginger puree, plus garam masala-flavored walnuts, lemon zest, mint, and fried shiso leaves, there were too many little bits. I wanted to spread the beet puree on a freshly baked baguette, maybe topped with some of that farm cheese curd, and not bother with the frou-frou elements.
The hit ratio is even lower in the entrees. You have to like very slow cooking, a method Pooler uses too often. The point is to achieve succulence – and it often works. But it also means that fish and meat can acquire a sameness. Egg-battered halibut ($27) is supposed to mimic an omelet, Pooler told me, and in its own soft, golden way, it did. But his effort to cook the egg batter without allowing it to brown didn’t produce an appealing dish. The onion soubise under the fish didn’t add any punch, either.
I pick on that dish because it seems to characterize a number of the mains, which have good ingredients with lots of elements that don’t quite come off. A plate of monkfish medallions with artichokes, fiddleheads, fried capers, chorizo dust, and bread-garlic sauce ($24) suffered from tough fish and a surplus of ingredients; pan-seared scallops with roasted asparagus, maitake mushrooms, and green garlic sauce ($24) were salty but bland.
The specials from the "blackboard menu" – $39 for three courses – were a better bet. Roast pork shoulder had skin that was a bit rubbery, but the gigantic white corona beans with bacon were practically meat themselves. A wonderful lamb hash on a Monday was less a hash than a ragout, presented with a trove of spring vegetables including asparagus, fava, and peas, plus onion soubise. I wished everything had been that simply and clearly conceived.
I found only one entree on the regular menu I’d want again: braised rabbit leg with fresh peas, portobello mushrooms, and parsley pappardelle ($19). The meat was fine, but the pasta was terrific. It was a French approach (stock, butter, leeks, and thyme in the sauce), but made better than any pasta dish I’ve had in France.
Let me linger on Pooler’s expertise with vegetables: Mostly they’re included with the main courses, like bright-flavored peas and carrots with the rabbit, and roasted asparagus with the scallops. Sometimes they’re on the blackboard menu, like a sensational side of fiddle-heads with fingerlings and pancetta ($7). When he roasts vegetables, he uses high temperatures so they’re caramelized outside and creamy within.
Bergamot has the luxury of a full-time pastry chef, and Stacy Mirabello produces desserts that are lovely to look at, particularly "that grapefruit dessert" ($8): meticulously sectioned ruby red grapefruit and white wine sabayon with a St. Germain sorbet, seasoned with cilantro and pink peppercorn. It coheres into a refreshing whole. So does Meyer lemon steamed pudding ($9), with the unexpected addition of quinoa, both toasted and in a crunchy tuile; the accompanying coconut sherbet has a wonderfully smooth texture. Carrot cake