Dining Out: Parsons Table

A Winchester standby goes downscale — and proves that comfort food can be destination fare.

The deliberately casual stuff impressed me more than the menu’s more-upscale offerings. With the exception of dry, dully flavored swordfish accompanied by asparagus and tasty grits ($24), the kitchen shone with its fish dishes, as you’d expect when the chef’s flagship was and will be called Catch. Wild striped bass ($26) was expertly pan-seared, the flesh firm and meaty but not overcooked, the thick and somewhat tough skin — as it usually is with bass — a crisp and dark. The ratatouille on the plate was meticulously made, the vegetables cooked separately and then heated together to meld the flavors. But the tapenade served alongside was a little dull and not salty enough, an unusual complaint from someone who usually rails on about salt.
I mention this because the dishes are uniformly unchallenging in conception and seasoning, which makes eating here both pleasant and unexciting. Even the hits of salt and cumin in a really, really nice appetizer of roasted clams covered with crumbled, air-dried chorizo and bread crumbs ($7), and the fresh-flavored steamed Maine mussels with chorizo and smoked tomato ($9), are mild-mannered. Still, I can’t remember liking roasted clams so much, or frankly the last time I saw them with crumbs on a Boston menu. 
The details and the sides are where Parsons shows his chops. The simple stuff is exceptionally good. Those plates are much better than a place like this would lead you to expect or would typically deliver, and they’re what make Parsons Table worth a trip. Ward’s Berry Farm creamed corn ($6) was creamy (with both milk from the cob and crème fraiche), and was neither heavy nor overcooked, two common errors. Pan-roasted cauliflower with almonds, capers, and golden raisins ($4) is one of those dishes that even skeptics order a second round of. (It joins the local cauliflower pantheon, whose only other member is Toro.) Parsons isn’t afraid to put an iceberg salad ($7) on the menu — sans bacon, but with homemade blue cheese dressing and pickled shallots that cut the richness. The freshness of organic beets and the sweet sharpness of both sherry vinegar and Blue Ledge Farm chèvre lifted a beet and walnut salad ($8) one rung above what has become a very humdrum appetizer. And warm frisée salad ($8) with house-made bacon, sherry vinaigrette, and a farm egg is, like the burger, a dish to come back for. Every component was done right.