Restaurant Review: Fairsted Kitchen
When Mediterranean-leaning cuisine meets grandmother-chic décor, a cozy, friendly, and mostly cohesive neighborhood restaurant emerges.
I was ready to go home and try to re- create all of these dishes. The one small plate I wouldn’t attempt: veal sweetbreads, fried in a light batter and finished with a classic, caper-laced Provençal sauce reminiscent of a Venetian sweet-and-sour marinade, called saor, that’s commonly used for fried fish. They were soft and greaseless, lightly peppered and lovely—a sweetbread conversion moment for the squeamish.
Other categories weren’t as consistent, particularly the “snacks and sides” ($8 each). The pig’s-head lettuce wrap (an outlier at $5) was a laudably affordable bar snack, but the fried pig’s-head cake was, unlike the sweetbreads, greasy, and the accompanying julienned carrot, daikon, cilantro, and chili neither lightened it nor made it easy to wrap in the lettuce leaves provided. Potato croquettes with blue cheese, short ribs, and black trumpet mushrooms were also exceedingly heavy.
“Large” dishes, or mains, were the least exciting: chicken with strozzapreti, roasted garlic, and carrot ($19); salmon with oyster mushrooms, barley, and spinach ($24); and lentils with turnip, zucchini, and a fried egg on top ($18) seemed, in essence, dutiful, competent entrées for dull diners who insist on chicken, salmon, or something vegetarian. The chicken was rubbery, while a pork shank ($28) with Alsatian potatoes (tossed in mustard and sherry vinegar) was braised to the point of becoming dry and stringy.
Yet, and a big yet: Grilled Wagyu zabuton, a cut I’d never heard of that is at the top of the short rib, was not just the best steak, but probably the best beef dish I tried in all of 2014. It had a great hard char on the outside and was extremely tender inside, with powerfully beefy flavor that needed no marinade and really no accompaniment, though the caramelized celeriac purée and expert bordelaise sauce paired nicely. That cut! That beef! It was more than worth the $33 for a rather modest portion.
It’s a dish you won’t want to share. You will, however, have no trouble sharing the “table” dishes, enough for three to four people. I didn’t quite see the point of whole red and yellow peppers stuffed with “frike” (hand-harvested immature wheat berries Albus told me he had found at Arax Market, in Watertown), roasted all day with golden raisins, and served with the homemade strained yogurt cheese labne. It was a very respectable vegetarian dish with the taste of oven-braised Mediterranean fare, but charging $44 for more portions than a Lenten group of Greek priests could go through at a dinner seemed a bit mysterious. Not so for a whole black bass flash-fried and served with black bean sauce and basmati rice ($48). It was dramatic to look at, simply conceived and prepared. I eyed but never tried the Fred Flintstone–looking braised oxtail ($65), which Albus says he likes specifically for its caveman effect.
Gimmicks aside, this is generous, homey, easy-to-like food, and the restaurant is as easy to slip into as a pair of comfy slippers. Desserts ($8 each) are few: a pie, always (a fine but unremarkable pumpkin when I visited), and an intense dark chocolate pot de crème that, each time we ordered it, would cause a guest to call the server over for a second order after a single bite. Not everything at Fairsted will inspire such immediate greed. But all of it will make you decide to come back a second time, and probably more.
Stuffed delicata squash…$14
Turkish lamb meatballs…$14
Chocolate pot de crème…$8
Fairsted Kitchen, 1704 Beacon St., Brookline, 617-396-8752, fairstedkitchen.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.