First Bite: Woodward

This new downtown spot has plenty of sizzle. Now, if only it would turn up the heat in the kitchen.

First Bite Woodward

Photograph by Michael Piazza

There are several  good ideas waiting to coalesce at Woodward, the glossy restaurant and lounge in Boston’s new Ames hotel. There’s smart design, particularly on the second floor, where the dining room is anchored by a fireplace and overlooks the Old State House. There are well-crafted cocktails and some tasty bites. There are crowds of pretty people — the target demographic — and the Financial District types who love them. And there’s a thoughtful attempt to create a scene that feels truly Bostonian, rather than just another notch on a hotel chain’s bedpost.

It’s an ambitious aesthetic, and one that could inspire resounding huzzahs if the execution weren’t so inconsistent. As it is, this is a place to watch and hope for.

Let’s start with the food. Executive chef Mark Goldberg excels when -reinterpreting New England fare like short rib “pot roast” or serving succulent monkfish atop a sweet potato hash with lobster. And his house pickles are so good you won’t miss the bread they replace. This is Yankee food gone modern, and it works. But other inventions seem hokey, like a too-cheesy goat-cheese flatbread loaded with too much duck confit and dried cranberries, and spongy gnocchi in a weak tomato broth.

Then there’s the service, which ranges from great — a server who can hold forth on not just each drink and dish, but also the full history of the building and surrounding neighborhood — to one recent dud who didn’t grasp that food requires silverware. In addition, the “small” and “large” shared plates look, and cost, an awful lot like appetizers and main courses, which is why it’s so odd that they come out in staggered fashion — a move that reads less like tapas and more like chaos.

Still, enough succeeds that Woodward deserves time to work out the kinks. At its best, it offers a compelling city dining experience that’s equal parts past and present. And that’s a combination we can get behind.

Ames Hotel, One Court St., Boston, 617-979-8200.