MAKING NEW ENGLAND PROUD A Portuguese fisherman’s family would be hard-pressed to craft a better stew.
I never call chefs before writing a review, but if I did speak with Brian Flagg of North 26, I'd ask him if Jasper White has ever paid a visit. It would be a kind of poetic justice to have White back at the scene of his first real fame, ordering off a menu that draws heavily on a vision he was among the first to articulate: American produce with a French technique. He might even feel mellow enough to forgive the crummy review I gave him for that restaurant where he made his breakthrough, Seasons (which was formerly located in this same hotel, when it was under different management), or the glowing review I am about to give Chef Flagg, a former chef at White's Summer Shack, for doing what amounts to a popularization of White's best notions.
|North 26 | 26 North Street (Millennium Bostonian Hotel), Boston | 617.557.3640 | Open Monday–Friday, 6:30 am–10:30 pm; Saturday and Sunday, 7 am–10:30 pm | AE, DC, DI, MC, VI | Full bar | Street-level access | Valet parking, $18|
Get started with the bread basket, which is terrific: round slices of sourdough, wedges of sweet cornbread with berries, something like a potato roll. Then move over to the wine list, which has a set of bar bites. Do not under any circumstances miss the chickpea fries ($5). They come in a wire basket, and are much lighter and more spiced -- almost like falafel -- than your grandfather's panisses, even without a hotted-up mayonnaise for a dip.
My favorites of the regular appetizers was cumin-roasted lamb ribs ($12) that were leaner, beefier, and less exotic than the menu description, but so darned good. I also admired the kettle of mussels ($11) for their outstanding buttery broth, best when soaked up by pesto-spread toasts and the rest of the bread basket. Rhode Island--style calamari ($9) was grilled, not fried, and beautifully cut into ribbons, with a tomato sauce and thin disks of polenta. Handmade whole-wheat tagliatelle ($12) tended to break apart too easily, just like commercial whole-wheat pasta, but the flavorings of pancetta, real tomatoes, wild mushrooms, and chard were excellent.
The salads -- arugula ($8) with two fried balls of goat cream cheese and a balsamic dressing, and mixed local greens ($8) filled out with thin slices of radish, bits of asparagus, and pear tomatoes -- were perfectly dressed and you could take them anywhere.
To play on the name, entrée prices stop at $26. The one dish over the price line, New England shellfish stew ($27), is worth every bit of that. It has another broth that demands a second bread basket, and is salty but full of seafood flavors from mussels, clams, a lobster tail, squid, and scallops, plus real Portuguese sausage. The only thing a Portuguese fisherman's family would do better is add more potatoes to balance the salt.