Dining Out: Family Circle
Few things are more heartening than seeing a chef connect with a neighborhood, establish roots, and decide to give locals a real sense of place night after night. And few chefs could have a stronger sense of roots and place than Jeremy Sewall, whose new restaurant, Lineage, is at the end of the Coolidge Corner street named for his ancestor Samuel Sewall—the man who once owned most of what is now Brookline.
Few things are more heartening than seeing a chef connect with a neighborhood, establish roots, and decide to give locals a real sense of place night after night. And few chefs could have a stronger sense of roots and place than Jeremy Sewall, whose new restaurant, Lineage, is at the end of the Coolidge Corner street named for his ancestor Samuel Sewall—the man who once owned most of what is now Brookline. Of course I want to support such a place, even if I spent one of the most anxious 13 months of my life waiting for the owners of a condo on that very street to agree to sell, even if the chef’s last name reverberated in my dreams and correspondence more often than I ever wish to remember, even if the condo sold for hundreds of thousands more than it should have, and not to me. I wish everyone involved with the name Sewall well. Really.
The problem is, I remember the details of that condo much better than I do the food at Lineage. This is a spurious and unfair comparison, of course: Nothing sears itself into memory like a piece of lost real estate. But it’s the same problem I had at Sewall’s previous post, Great Bay, the big seafood restaurant in the Hotel Commonwealth (which happens to be at the tip of Samuel Sewall’s former turf, the current Kenmore Square).
Like Great Bay’s, Lineage’s menu shows that Sewall knows and respects fish. And like Great Bay, Lineage offers generous portions of straightforward food at medium-high prices, with polished professionalism in both presentation and service. The food at Lineage is diner-pleasing, low-risk New American food reminiscent of what Sewall learned from Brad Ogden at the Lark Creek Inn, in Marin County, California: carefully made sauces, good sauté and grill work, nothing froufrou. It exemplifies New England virtues almost to a fault—solid quality, well mannered, well made, inconspicuous.
Lineage is at once easy and a bit formal—a combination that is required more often than you might think. It suits a span of occasions, from family gatherings to business meetings. The wide double storefront room has the bright simplicity it has had since Zaatar’s Oven occupied the space and put a stucco-covered wood oven right in the middle. (It was most recently Lucy’s, which seems to have left behind most of its tables.) Sewall and his wife, Lisa, who run the restaurant together, have gone for handsome dark wood trim against the light walls and added a big new bar in front of the oven. Tables are covered with starched white cloths, and the chairs and banquettes are comfortable. Practically the only decoration is a large-scale antique map showing Samuel Sewall’s original holdings.
Much of the food is quite enjoyable and handsomely presented. The roasted red beet “ravioli” ($11), for instance, is a rectangular plate of magenta disks, sandwiched like Oreos with creamy whipped goat cheese; it’s simple, stylish, good. Tuna tartare with sesame, chive, and pickled red onion ($13), served in the shape of a cube, is a large portion of perfectly fresh tuna, pretty to look at and smooth and undemanding going down. Thin-crust pizza ($9) could hardly be better, with a crackling lavash-like crust, potato and cremini mushrooms, and slices of Gruyère-like Piave cheese. (Well, it could be better if the always-extraneous truffle oil were removed, but here it was gratifyingly muted.) The crust has so much flavor that fans who still lament the disappearance of Zaatar’s homemade pita can come out of mourning. It’s surprising that Sewall doesn’t yet take advantage of the oven beyond the pizza and some braises.
Among the Great Bay greatest hits that turn up at Lineage are a beautiful line of plump scallops ($27), perfectly seared, with peas and truffle oil, again gently deployed; and a showstopping baked stuffed lobster, the best dish I remember from Great Bay, and here called Cousin Mark’s Lobster ($34) in honor of Sewall’s lobsterman first cousin. (This time, the stuffing is based on brioche crumbs as butter-soaked as the homemade rolls Sewall made at Great Bay and makes here, too.) Other fish dishes also begin with uniformly pristine ingredients and the bonus of excellent, individual vegetable accompaniments; a potato and parsnip hash that comes with halibut in brown butter has the unusual addition of puréed fresh oysters ($28). King salmon with cauliflower and baby gold beets ($24) is memorable for the roasted vegetables, though the fish is a nice big chunk—and, like the halibut, cooked only until translucent in the middle. (If you prefer fish cooked through, say so when you order it.)
There’s more meat at Lineage than there was at Great Bay, and you should ask first what’s made in the wood oven: A braised lamb shank with creamy grits (the “cream” is mostly mascarpone) and browned cubes of root vegetables glazed with a honey-bourbon sauce ($19) was the standout among the entrées I tried, and a bargain. Roast chicken with wonderful fingerling potatoes was unusually good and also very well priced at $18. This is comfort food with an occasional gloss of elegance—those arresting, perfect rounds of beet “ravioli,” the carefully turned vegetables in the hash. That’s not the same as memorable. But it can be just the thing for a slightly dressy, unpompous date or a family dinner.
Desserts, overseen by Lisa Sewall, are generous and rich, with the holdover hit being the best-in-town butterscotch pudding ($7) from Great Bay. Lovely and expert seasonal treats include a homey rhubarb cobbler ($8) and flaky shortcake with fresh strawberries ($7). A trio of homemade cookies were too soft and oily for my taste, but come with a nice and fresh ice milk ($7). Seasonal ice creams on the menu are good, too. It’s all a decadent ending to a pleasant experience—one that’s a welcome addition to a neighborhood that values local ties.