Restaurant Review: BoMa in South End
Linguine with clams, $19.
Lemon-pudding cake topped with an airy lemon foam, $9.
Sometimes the chef turns out plates that could be from a corner bistro in Paris, like a selection of charcuterie ($14) that features a ramekin of homemade chicken-liver mousse coated with a clear cap of duck fat; a simple but silken round of perfectly spreadable foie gras; and long triangles of crisp pork belly. A “tiny plate” of duck-confit hash with sautéed root vegetables is not just more mastery than $6 should buy, but more meat, too—generous amounts of soft confit and plenty of bits of crisped duck skin.
Occasionally, though, technique fizzles into outright boredom, as in a “warmed medley of roasted beets, Vermont goat cheese, and greens” ($11), really just a tired stack of poached beet rounds layered with bland goat cheese. Every part of the pizzetta with spinach and seasonal mushrooms ($14) might be homemade, including the béchamel and caramelized onions, but the slices were gloppy and uninteresting—and their being served cool and coated with a vinyl-like carpet of semi-congealed Val d’Aosta fontina didn’t help. Otherwise-okay duck-fat fries with house-made ketchup ($8) also arrived cold, as did a plate of tater tots ($6). Better to order the very fresh salads, which feature leaves of mesclun with an acid-bitter-mineral tang: a simple green salad with tiny plum tomatoes ($8), or kale with shaved fennel and heirloom radishes, blood orange, and chili-lime-roasted almonds ($9).
“Light fare” items are generally more successful than the “large plates,” which is a good thing considering their moderate prices and generous portions. Best were two pastas that tasted made to order: bucatini with more of those sweet Maine rock shrimp and a brightly herbal homemade pesto, the pasta wonderfully al dente ($18); and linguine with clams in a broth fortified with hot-pepper flakes, garlic, brandy, and white wine ($19). As with the fries, the display of technique in a mushroom risotto with shaved pecorino Romano and drizzled balsamic vinegar ($12, or $18 as an entrée) was undercut by the fact that the dish was served cold.
Bussell’s shepherd’s pie ($15) was the best rendition of the English winter standby that I’ve had in a long time: a buttery, winey lamb stew with the sheen of fresh veal and chicken stocks. It’s baked to order with a mashed-potato coating that gets nice crunch from a dusting of herbed panko crumbs. Though listed as “light fare,” the pie isn’t light at all. It was more satisfying than any single “large plate,” even the tasty grilled hanger steak ($25) with a barbecue-like demi-glace, served southern-style with sweet-potato fries and collards braised with bacon and chili butter. Yes, the steak had too much going on. But unlike most of the other entrées (say, grilled swordfish and a pasty, oily sticky-rice cake in a Thai yellow curry, inexplicably topped with a fried head-on shrimp, $25), the majority of the elements were good, particularly the tender, salty-spicy meat—and, as a bonus that shouldn’t be a bonus, it was served warm.
Bussell makes the desserts, too, and he’s better at it than most savory chefs. A brown-sugar-streusel-topped bread pudding ($9), layered with pieces of leftover homemade brioche, had the spongy, light texture of a tres leches cake rather than the dense and buttery consistency bread pudding often has. Even lighter and more refreshing was a dessert I had to keep ordering whenever I went: lemon-pudding cake ($9), a custard aerated with beaten egg whites and served with a lemon foam Bussell described as his one foray into molecular gastronomy: whipped fresh lemonade that keeps its froth thanks to the addition of soy lecithin.
I kept looking forward to that lemon-pudding cake. And to the pastas, confit hash, and salads that brightened every meal. I also kept waiting for the staff and kitchen to mesh their gears. I’ll keep waiting—and hoping that BoMa will work to succeed on a South End strip where the competition is only growing stiffer.
1415 Washington St., Boston, 617-536-2662, bomarestaurant.com.
Critic Corby Kummer—an editor at The Atlantic and author of The Pleasures of Slow Food—has been reviewing Greater Boston’s top restaurants in our pages since 1997.
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