Dining Out: Journeyman Review
Those, unfortunately, were the exceptions. An order of pork loin had almost no flavor and was in dire need of the homemade sauerkraut to its side. The fish in “salmon, chives, vichyssoise” was similarly bland, the salmon slow-roasted and served with sautéed fresh bulbs of garlic chives and a translucent brownish sauce the server identified as the vichyssoise. “Doesn’t that have cream?” I asked. No cream, he said. “Well,” he added helpfully, “it has ginger.” Indeed, it was a potato-leek sauce with ginger juice — more interesting, at least, than the salmon, but unappealing to look at. (Even more unattractive: a dark-brown smear of coffee crème anglaise beneath a dessert of slab-white coconut panna cotta and good coconut pound cake.)
Dishes often seemed like haphazard, fiddly works in progress. One on the vegetarian menu made with butternut squash was a thick custard flavored with cocoa nibs and prettily baked in a wide, shallow coffee cup. But one week the custard was served cold and hard with a miso foam; the next week it was served warm with a cool milk foam spiced heavily with nutmeg, ginger, cinnamon, and clove, and had grated candy-cap mushrooms on top. Neither combination worked. The custard was better cold and firm, but bland all the same, and the miso was a strange choice to put on top of it. The spices in the milk foam were a more successful match, but the warm texture and mushroom bits were unpleasant. One week the vegetarian “wheat berries, kohlrabi, cheese” was enriched with butter and triple-crème French cheese; the next there was just as much cheese — but it was a pungent, salty blue that overwhelmed the offering, making it almost impossible to eat.
And some things were just plain odd, such as agnolotti made of papery, near-raw pasta dough filled with homemade lardo and puréed confit tomato served in a salty chicken consommé with razor clams, oysters, and littlenecks—an item opaquely called “bivalves, agnolotti, chicken.” And the pork-trotter ballottine? It had a marvelous crisp skin and tender nuggets of pork but an overspiced and terribly dry forcemeat. Both dishes gave more an impression of enthusiasm than experience.
All that said, there’s more than good will and a keen sense of style at work at Journeyman. The room is cool but comfortable, the window garden lovely to see, and the staff believers in the mission. Kudajarova is a terrific bread baker, specializing in the dark and whole-grain loaves of her childhood in Latvia. The chefs are good with pickles and, often, meat. They obviously like cooking and have put their heart into the restaurant. Maybe what they need is an extended tryout, during which they keep making the same dishes till they’ve got them just where they want them, rather than the weekly fiddling. For now, I’ll wait a while as the two hone their skills. Maybe that tryout will coast to its natural conclusion right as the farms they so much want to support come into their abundant peak — on Journeyman’s first anniversary.
9 Sanborn Ct., Somerville, 617-718-2333, journeymanrestaurant.com.
See more photos of Journeyman dishes.