Review: The Brahmin

Gourmet bits in Back Bay, never mind the history
By ROBERT NADEAU  |  November 16, 2011
2.0 2.0 Stars

MEAT FOR THE MASSES Despite its moniker, the Brahmin’s tasty small plates — like these deliciously simple meatballs — cater to more proletariat tastes. 

The Brahmin is a useful restaurant with a bad name. The legacy is the fun-house design of the original 33 restaurant, one of the weirdest and most distracting settings for good food ever devised. Walk in and look down the stairway and all the angles are weird, making you wonder about your inner ears. And that's carpentry, so it's expensive to change. Likewise, the ceiling in the main dining room is off-kilter, although there are some tufted maroon leatherette sofas and dark wood that give some notion of the old Boston clubs. Still, whatever this is, it isn't Brahmin. Brahmins did not dine in bare brick rooms (you can look this up). They did not like Kool and the Gang or other 1970s funkmeisters as background music. And the food, past a few classic cocktails, is like nothing the Brahmins ate. Tater tots ($6) with three sauces? Roasted portobello flatbread ($10)? I guarantee you that neither Oliver Wendell Holmes not Henry Cabot Lodge ever ate such things in their lives, although if they had these good small plates before them, they might have tucked right in, as we did.

The most Boston Brahmin–type things I tasted were the cocktails, although even they are more like what Brahmins might have ordered on their European grand tours of the 1920s than in their heydays at home. Certainly the "Forbes' sidecar" ($10) is a smooth and rapid delivery system for cognac. The "Stanhope Bellini" ($12) adds a bracingly bitter finish to what has sometimes deteriorated in a sweet drink, the peach flavor (from peach Absolut, in part) is dry as the finish of a fine Champagne.

Food-wise, I say send the Brahmins back to their clubs, and let's get some more of those tater tots. They come in a paper cone like upscale fish and chips, and the three dips are mustard, ketchup, and a thin white low-garlic aioli that is almost as transgressive as ranch dressing. Truffle oil seems to permeate everything, although it is alleged to be in the ketchup only. Then there are the grilled white asparagus ($5) which weren't grilled our night, but were tied in two neat bundles with crisped Spanish ham wraps and a nice lemony white sauce (I suppose white sauce could be considered Boston Brahmin). A plate of marinated olives ($4), with several colors, didn't have enough marination (lemon and chili pepper was the idea) to differentiate by flavor. I always pick out the bright green ones anyway.

Grilled prawns with chipotle sauce ($8) are three with shells on in a micro Dutch oven with a rich, sneaky-hot sauce. Meatballs ($6) are a small-plate best-buy, with three light golf balls of mixed meats, a sprig of fresh basil, and some toasts to pick up the gravy, which has a kick. "Truffled mac and cheese" ($7) has a cheesy sauce, not a creamy one, but the truffle oil is there and the crumbs are crisp, and it's almost as much as you would eat at home if no one was looking.

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