Restaurant Review: Sycamore in Newton Centre

A little restraint is all that this Newton Centre restaurant needs to become this critic’s next great love.

sycamore newton centre

Chicken breast and leg confit, $23

Meat, it seems, is what Punch and Reichert do best. A daube of beef ($26) with dried porcini and prunes, served with Chantenay carrots and parsnip purée, was every bit as deep-flavored, comforting, and old-fashioned as it sounds—the kind of straight-ahead stew you don’t get often enough in restaurants (maybe because most chefs don’t have the taste to call Paula Wolfert’s The Cooking of Southwest France their favorite cookbook, as Punch does). And few home cooks who use the book have the patience to individually brown every cube of meat, as Punch told me Reichert does. It’s a feat anyone who’s made Julia Child’s beef bourguignon will recognize as a labor of love.

Chicken breast rubbed with sumac, sesame, and wild thyme was served with a duck-fat-poached confit leg and root vegetables sautéed with the intensely flavored golden jelly from the bottom of a confit jar ($23). It was as good a chicken dish as I know. This, along with the beef, is the kind of main course that can keep a restaurant running for years. Even a vegetarian entrée offered the same decadent comfort: Potato gratin ($21) in a green-garlic-and-leek-infused cream came topped with an umami-rich mushroom ragout powered by red wine, miso, and mushroom stock.

sycamore newton centre

Co-chef Lydia Reichert puts the finishing touch on the pig board for two.

The problem is relief—the dance of intensity and refreshment that the cocktail menu achieves, but the dinner menu does not. The need to pack heavy flavor into every dish seems to be a frequent symptom of the nose-to-tail cook. Thus a “farm greens salad” ($9) with fresh lettuce and thinly sliced radish was weighed down with toasted hazelnuts, dried pear, and a slice of Iggy’s baguette thickly spread with honey-tarragon goat cheese. The three vegetable “sides” were oily powerhouses: asparagus grilled with smoked pepper, dried arbol chilis, green garlic, and uneven squares of oven-crisped pancetta ($7); kale slow-cooked with garlic confit and gratineed with grated pecorino and bread crumbs ($6); and little florets of hard-seared cauliflower with chili, garlic, golden raisins, capers, pine nuts, and sherry vinegar ($6). They felt more like main features than complements.

Simplicity returns in the desserts, particularly in a pot de crème ($9) that was really a plain chocolate pudding. It was less dense than a traditional pot de crème, but pure and good (bypass the accompanying whipped cream with banana purée, and the homemade peanut brittle, for the biggest hit of chocolate). A bowl of greengage-plum preserves served with an almond financier ($9), meanwhile, was so full of fresh-fruit flavor that we begged for another helping. Perhaps predictably, the best dessert by far was deep-fried: beignets with milk jam ($8). The servers and the chef love to mention that these crispy delights are from a recipe by cook Kelly Fernandes, who beat Punch in a “beignet-off” the kitchen conducted before opening. Indeed, they were easily better than anything I tried on a recent trip to New Orleans—so airy they almost disappeared as I bit them, perfectly dry, and with a sugar-and-spice dusting that added just enough sand to keep the texture interesting. Everyone’s putting fresh-fried doughnuts on their dessert menu. No one’s doing them better.

All Sycamore needs now is a little fine-tuning. I’m still ready to fall in love.

Sycamore, 755 Beacon St., Newton Centre, 617-244-4445,

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.