Stoddard’s Fine Food & Ale: The Basics And Some Beautiful Details

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Posted January 10, 2014 by Heather Kapplow in Eat & Drink
Stoddard's

At least in the Winter, entering Stoddard‘s feels a bit like entering Narnia through the wardrobe. Rather than a coatroom, Stoddard’s has a long entryway lined with coat hooks, which are full at this time of year. It’s dark-ish, and they muffle the sound a bit, so when you emerge into the main dining room it feels like you’ve stepped into another dimension.

Or into another time…

The wood, pressed tin ceilings, and fixtures are vintage-looking, as is much of the ladies underwear showcased in recessed-lit alcoves along the wall where I am seated. When I glance at the cocktail list, it seems possible that I found my way into a prohibition era speakeasy, so I place orders for a Scofflaw and a Savoy Blackthorne. I also order a special, the Spicy Tomato Bisque, immediately. I’m too cold for an iced drink unless soup is going to be the chaser. My dining partner orders the “local and seasonal” Cheese and Housemade Charcuterie Plate and we settle in to ogle the bustiers and read the narrative that covers the back side of the menu.

Here, the unique ambiance is explained: “Corsets in the front pay tribute to Chandler’s Corset Store, the building’s first occupant.” It turns out that the menu details all come from the building’s past as well. The scrollwork on the menu headers are hand-painted accent scrolls that were found on the corset store’s safe, and the cocktail menu is a recreation of the license held by a druggist who was in the building in 1909, a time, the menu tells us, when alcohol was considered a pharmaceutical drug. When our drinks arrive, they are tasty, but a little on the watery side. Perhaps that’s what you get when you don’t have a prescription.

The rest of the restaurant’s beautiful and cozy décor—the cast iron railings on the mezzanine level of the main dining room, the accent wood in the entryway and bathrooms, and the bar-rail—are also mined from the past. Specifically and respectively from the historic Filene’s Building, the original coal-furnace charred floors of the building itself, and the trolley tracks from the original Park Street Trolley station. The overall feel is that you are in the ancient heart of Boston and that it is still beating, albeit to a completely new rhythm. The crowd is young and smart, the music is modern but tasteful, and the Spicy Tomato Bisque?

Let me tell you about the Spicy Tomato Bisque…

It is perfect. It’s hot, it’s hot in the other sense, and it is not run of the mill in any way. There’s nothing wild about it—it’s a solid, tangy, traditional tomato bisque with a good dash of cayenne—but every ingredient involved is perfectly cooked and nicely showcased. Each blends with the others effortlessly, it beats back my chill, and then it is gone.

Duo of Duck

A 1/2 Portion of Stoddard’s Fine Food & Ale’s “Duo of Duck”. Photo Credit: Heather Kapplow

The Housemade Charcuterie Plate is similarly pleasing, and best accompanied by one of the extremely large, highly curated and oft-changing varieties of craft beers. We chose a Yankee Swap from the Somerville, MA brewer Slumbrew that was fresh tasting and stouty but not at all heavy. The charcuterie turned out to be a collection of three cheeses—one gouda, one brie, and one blue, but no one ever told us exactly what they were. These came with what looked like baguette toast, a livery-tasting pate or terrine, delicious honey that might have been local, and two kinds of prosciutto—one of which may have been duck.

Details

I’m hinting at this but should say it outright—our server was very sweet and attentive, but no one had given her the training necessary to describe or discuss anything on the menu. We had simple questions about food and drink ingredients that she couldn’t answer without consulting a bartender or cook. And the answers, when they did come, were not terribly informative.

But none of this interfered with the quality of the food, which whether fully identified or not, was without exception quite good. For an entree, we shared something called Duo of Duck. This is duck served two ways—the breast pan seared, and the thigh as a confit—atop a wild mushroom risotto with a “huckleberry jus.” Stoddard’s was kind enough to split the dish in two, and I was very glad to be sharing it because the portion would be extremely large for one person. Large and delectable. The “jus” was subtle—I could see it but not really taste it, though it probably accounted for the succulence of the duck breast. The confit was delicious as well—rich and earthy compared to the breast. The risotto was slightly bland and maybe slightly less toothy than I prefer it, but I enjoyed the mushrooms themselves a great deal as well as the hint of truffle oil and the herbs used to accent them.

Though I only passed through it, Stoddard’s also has a whole additional bar and seating area in the basement level, which struck me as slightly more intimate than the main dining area. There’s less there to distract from the illusion of having stepped back in time—for example, you don’t see the Silver Line pulling up in front of the front window ever 20 minutes or so. I feel a bit petty thinking this as soon as I think it, but at the top of the stairs some housemade magic marker graffitti reminds “It is all in the details.” And so why not mention them.

Stoddard’s gets most of the details right, and nails the basics.

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