Review: Porter Cafe

Some clever gastropub grub, with a focus on beer
By ROBERT NADEAU  |  September 28, 2011
2.0 2.0 Stars

COD COMFORT The roasted cod, served with green beans and white beans, was a standout on the Porter’s menu of bistrofied comfort food.

You know, I can do this gastropub thing. I like having a glass of fancy beer and ordering off a short list of snacks and entrées, and apparently so do lots of other people in 2011. These places are busting out all over, and I'll keep reviewing them until they stop opening them, by which time there were will be cask-conditioned-ale taps on every other corner. Each has its moments of originality, and with the shorter column lengths here in the Phoenix — kind of like the pitch counts in Major League Baseball — a few moments of originality is all we have adjectives for. (In my last review, at the rather complicated Journeyman, I was living John Lackey's nightmare by the third inning — er, course.)

The Porter is across the street from the larger and more ambitious West on Centre, in what is becoming West Roxbury's restaurant row. The focus here, per the name, is beer — from the classic-cans-on-wall display to some classy ales on tap. Sticking with the eponymous dark beers, I had the weekly special: a bottle of Breckenridge vanilla porter ($7), with the full toasty, almost-chocolate flavor of roasted barley, plus a reinforcing nudge of actual vanilla. A bottle of Left Hand "Black Jack" porter ($6) was less thrilling: no head, a little flat, toasty, but not enough hops for the body.

The most clever food idea is an appetizer of pierogies ($7), here done as little two-bite raviolis like mini–Mrs. T's, neatly laid out on some sautéed cabbage and napped with sour cream. Was comfort food ever so nicely bistrofied? Cider-steamed mussels ($11) are a remarkable success with a universal dish, or were, once we sent the juicy shellfish back to complete the cooking process. The cider doesn't leave much sauce to sop up, but it does affect the flavor, as do sprigs of fresh thyme. Bread comes as needed with appetizers; there is no breadbasket, but they do go with the wonderful trend of parking a carafe of water on one's table.

Salt cod brandade ($8) is a Provençal puree, here leaning away from the fish and heavily on the potatoes. Served in an individual cast-iron skillet (which is pretty, even if remote from the cooking process), it's a nice dip with toasts of French bread. Grilled-fish tacos ($8) are almost as pretty as the pierogies, and make fun and tasty finger food. I know that Baja fish tacos are made with fried fish, but they aren't a traditional food, either. With sour cream and avocado, the oil content is there.

My favorite entrée was roasted cod ($17), made to a complete Boston slogan with green beans and white shell beans. The fava and asparagus risotto ($14) is a nice contrast of colors and not too cheesy, so the crunch of green fava beans and the al dente rice are of a piece.

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