Last night a friend of mine convinced me to leave behind the nauseating couple laden Back Bay Fens, and treck it out to Dorchester for dinner and drinks at Ashmont Grill, located in Peabody Square right near the T-station. The ride out to Ashmont actually took about one third of the time I was expecting it to take; despite the fact that it is a last stop, ladies and gents, Ashmont is only about 20 minutes from Park Street (!!) Needless to say I got there a bit early, and so had a few minutes to look around the place before my dinner companion joined me at the host stand.
The place has a cool, modern vibe to it and that refurbished factory-type appearance (exposed brick wall, visible duct work in the ceilings, light fixtures hanging loosey-goosey from the ceiling) which seems to be so popular these days. However, it retained some of its neighborhood charm through details such as local art hanging on the walls, a laid-back and cozy bar and, most noticeably, the incredibly UN-douchey service. The host lady and I had a comfortably personal conversation about her angsty teenage daughter while I hung my coat on their rack by the door. Our server noted that it was the day after my birthday from my ID and made sure there was a candle in my dessert at the end. And the affordable but awesome Valentine’s Eve specials brought in local couples, giving the place a much more authentically communal vibe.
I’d wanted to try this place out for a while now, since it pops up quite frequently in conversations about the best kept secrets of Boston’s dining scene. The cuisine of Chef-Owner Chris Douglass, who also dug the (late) Icarus out of the ground and brought it to its South End style peak, is described by the Boston Globe as, “an intelligent way to approach food … dishes and flavors with integrity.” The menu at Ashmont Grill is largely American, tavern-style classics with a bit of creative flare. And while I think this genre of food is now becoming a bit too popular, I have to say, there wasn’t a single plate of food on a single table that night (and I do stare awkwardly into stranger’s plates), that looked poorly executed or thrown together. I saw a hearty, thick, deeply green split pea soup, crispy and lightly battered fried calamari, a perfectly juicy looking rack of smoked baby back ribs, a delicate row of tacos with brightly colored toppings. I saw satisfied smiles and enthusiastic fork-strokes.
Following our server’s recommendation, we ordered the Wood Grilled Lamb Sliders on Olive Focaccia from the starters list. A good decision to do so, considering the fact that these pillowy, meaty, dense little sliders paired up with the house cocktail, the Pineapple Infused Cosmo, to drive the lingering remains of a hangover straight out of my brain. Not to mention the fact that they were delicious! The patties were juicy, moist, minimally handled (as noted from their irregular shape) and they retained so much lamb flavor that I was forced to comment, “I love when ground lamb tastes like lamb.” And I do. Because sometimes ground lamb dries out, losing the moisture which carries within it all that mineral funk so characteristics of this bleating beast, and this dire situation results in something that tastes like corn-fed beef without the depth, like pork without the sweetness, like …well… sawdust. But not these patties. They retained all the fat and juices bestowed upon them and within these, that wonderful irony twang which I love so much. The lamb patties were stuck between two square slices of soft olive focaccia, which added a nice zing, while also soaking up the juices both of the lamb, and the cucumber raita which one slice was smothered with. The raita (a Indian/Pakistani condiment made with yoghurt, flavored with mint, garlic, cilantro or cumin, and often served with spicy dishes or kebabs) added an acidity to offset the mineral flavors of the goat, while the cucumber smoothed these flavors out a bit, adding a mellowness to each bite. A few crunchy onion strings topped off the lamb which added a surprising amount of crunch between the soft focaccia and the soft meat, as well as a comfy oiliness to the sliders.
Next up, we ordered one of the resto’s most popular dishes, which appears both as a starter and an entree, their Baked Macaroni and Cheese, made with a blend of sharp Cheddar, Monterey Jack and Parmesan cheese. A very simple and comforting dish, yet one which is surprisingly easy to screw up. This one was prepared very nicely, with a rich, gooey and moist center enclosed under a layer of crunchy, caramelized, grated Parmesan coated elbow macaroni on the exterior. The cheeses were sharp, but not overwhelmingly so, sticking the macaroni together without suffocating them. I’m glad we got the appetizer portion, because I’ve heard the entree is ginormous, and this was already filling enough as it was.
And for dessert, Ashmont Grill’s famous Sticky Toffee Pudding with Whipped Cream. Who knew a beast so gooey lurked in the distant confines of Dorchester? I surely did not. I should’ve though, as this dessert concoction was delicious enough to be featured on the Boston episode of Sugar High. I can see why. While the “pudding” is pretty dense, it is surprisingly light and incredibly moist (almost like fluffy, barely cooked cake batter) on the inside. After some research, I found out that they actually puree pitted dates and use that, together with a bit of orange zest, in the batter. This, I think, explains that extra layer of flavor depth that one bumps into when masticating this thang. The toffee sauce, whose sticky texture I enjoyed very much but whose flavor I was a bit let down by (corn syrup, maybe vanilla but no maple or bourbon or rum or anything like that) was poured over the outside of the cake and also used to moisten the interior a bit, with a middle layer that cut the cake in two. The pudding was topped with airy whipped cream which was (thankfully) not too sweet but which, instead, eased the sickly sweetness of the rest of the dessert instead