A Colorful Dinner at Bergamot

This past Sunday, having somehow shivered off the yummy little nomnoms I tried at the Boston Wine Expo (Wild Keta Salmon whole roasted by Chef Enos of Oceanaire, Saffron Risotto by Chef Maffeo of Lucia, countless crackers, tapenades and cheeses), I had dinner at Bergamot restaurant on the Somerville-Cambridge border. The resto is near and dear to my heart, since it was the scene of my first sommelier interview for my old job, with none other than B’s resident wine-wiz and bartender, Kai Gagnon (I ended up creepily scoping him out as he was frothing my eggy dessert drink behind the bar, and pointing him out to my dinner companions. But I’ll get to that later…) As Bergamot is blessed with a carefully assembled and truly wonderful wine list, it seemed like a great place to continue drinking the good stuff long after the expos was out. We managed to grab the last bottle of one of my all time favorite whites, the 2008 Movia Ribolla, which our server immediately suggested we have decanted (and then brought back to do just that), as well as a very nice little Beaujolais from Domaine des Côtes de la Molière. Both were excellent; then again, it really is impossible to make a bad choice with this list.

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The mood, upon our perfectly punctual arrival, was a bit stuffy and we were kind of abandoned on the couch for 10 minutes or so without cocktail lists or menus to pre-peruse, while our table was prepared after the time our reservation was for. The staff seemed aloof, walking from kitchen to host stand to bar with noses raised to the air instead of pointed down at where we (for example) were sitting, in order to gauge any needs we may have had. The initial iciness melted gradually away after we sat at the table, however, and from then on the service was great – helpful nods of agreement when it came to wine selection, detailed but patient descriptions of each dish, heartfelt persuasion to wait a few minutes for the freshly baked bread just about ready to come out of the over… The open kitchen and the busy (but not too chaotic) back-and-forth of cooks therein kept us (or at least me) thoroughly entertained while waiting for the food. And then, after some focaccia-style bread and butter, it began.

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Heirloom Chicory Salad – A very refreshing and light, but still interesting salad to start with. Curly chicory and radicchio (two especially bitter members of the very bitter chicory family) dressed lightly in an earthy and tangy Banyuls red wine vinaigrette whose acidity saved the greens from what would have otherwise been an overwhelming harshness. The salad was spotted with delicate slices of Picholine green olive as well as cubes of pink veal tongue and orange butternut squash, which gave the dish a cool array of colors. The veal tongue was chewy, gummy and fatty in flavor, while the butternut squash was a bit smoky, sweet and more tender to the bite. The fact that these were cubed gave them an interesting texture against the leaves, and there was a good amount of them to not have to fish too hard.

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Next up, the charcuterie plate, containing a triage of meats, all three fantastic. The first one I tried was the Pork Liver Pate which contained bits of tongue and heart (if I recall correctly), which made for a heartier, chunkier texture and a nice rustic feel, rather than the smooth liver mousse I’m used to. The thing was also wrapped in bacon for some extra gummy, tongue-tantalizing, fatty fun.

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Next up, my favorite piece on this plate, the Panco-coated and fried head cheese, sitting on a bed of delicate scallion pesto and topped off with a few grains of wild rice for some earthy, nutty flavor. The texture of this one was awesome, as the aspic in the head cheese melted just a tad from the frying process and became trapped behind the walls of the Panco crust, in a way similar to how the aspic in pork dumplings melts after steaming, giving rise to soup dumplings.  The result in this case was a soupier, juicier interior than had the aspic been left firm. The melty aspic stuck to the interior of the fried coating, while the pieces of cranial piggy flesh kind of wafted around the space inside, being pushed together only when bitten into. The fried coating went perfectly well with these chunks of soft meat and the wet aspic hydrated the inside, while the sweaty shallots added just the right amount of moisture (and very mild flavor) to the outside. A home-run, this one.

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And lastly, a soft Lamb Terrine with pine nuts, golden raisins and kabocha squash. This one was by far everyone’s favorite. The uniquely mineral flavor of the lamb was nicely conserved and the strands of squash mixed in provided an extra moisture which made each bite of the terrine juicy and satisfying. The golden raisins also added surprising little burst of hydration and a floral sweetness that contrasted with the murky flavors of the lamb. Some pine nuts were also mushed onto the surface of the terrine and these added some nuttiness, though I would’ve preferred them slightly toasted and crunchy, as they were a bit too soft and raw, and just kind of blended in with the texture of the terrine.

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Salt-Roasted Red Beets: The second salad we had contained slippery smooth, hearty slices of roasted red beet, packed with that deep under-the-earth, slightly sweet minerality that was brought to its peak by salting, as well as by its juxtaposition with the airy and fluffy goat cheese mousse that dotted the arugula over the beets. For an additional caramelized, smokey sweetness to offset this acidity, a chunky “jam” of charred onion also appeared on the dish. A crunchy textural backbone was provided by the very thinly sliced toasted bread. A well balanced salad, though I could have used a tad more of the fresh green leaves, since the scant amount of these kind of disappeared against the heartiness of the other ingredients.

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Pan-Seared Swordfish. I had a few bites of this dish and, from what I could tell, the fish was of very good quality, fresh and meaty but not a tad overcooked. The flesh had a wonderfully mild, sweet flavor to it and fell apart nicely into its natural flakes, separated by very little fat. It was served with a few grains of firm, crunchy wild rice as well as sauteed sweet scallion, tender scallop and taught little baby shrimp around the fish. The sauce pool was seasoned with garlic and sumac and had a nice mild flavor that did not overpower the swordfish. Not too exciting a dish, but one which showcased the excellent quality of its main ingredient.

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Pan-Seared Trout. An ode to the South, Bergamot style. A beautiful skin-on trout filet, seared until tender and flaky, while the skin became crispy and tight. The trout was served on a heap of some of the best grits I’ve ever had. The latter was buttery, cheesy, smooth with just the right amount of coarse graininess. The salty, nutty grits was offset by a sweet, smokey and acidic tomato-based BBQ sauce which would have overpowered a milder tasting fish, but did not do so with the trout. A bit of salty, smoky bacon was served to add some grease back into an otherwise pretty clean dish. My only qualm was that the bacon was a bit tough and rubbery, requiring a bit too much jaw-strength to chew. Otherwise, it was the right idea. Earthy, starchy black eyed peas were sprinkled around the dish, along with some fried kale that brought a nutty quality to swing the fish back into a savory direction, despite the sweet, jazzy note from the BBQ sauce.

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Pork Two-Ways. This was a dish I was not too impressed by, but this probably has to do with the fact that neither pork loin nor ham appear on my list of favorite piggy products. The loin was sliced thin with not a very thick layer of skin left on, while chunks of the house roasted ham were scattered over the top. The pork was served with a mixture of sauteed broccoli rabe, plump chick peas and Carnaroli rice which I though was nice but a bit bland in flavor, especially when combines with something as mild as pork loin. At the bottom of the plate was a pool of salty, roasted pork jus which seemed to carry 90% of the flavor of the dish, and some olive dust (not sure what that is…) was sprinkled over the top. Not bad, but I’ll take Craigie’s Vermont Pork Three-Ways over this dish any day.

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Atlantic Salmon Roulade, sitting in frothy and airy aïoli, served with a few fried baby artichokes and roasted heirloom German Butterball potatoes. A few shavings of Meyer lemon over the top. I only had a tiny bite of this one but I remember it being pretty good, despite the fact that my dinner companion seemed to be left rather unimpressed. The fish was incredibly flaky and cooked to the point of falling apart upon being cut into, yet not undercooked at all. The traditional garlic-citrus flavoring of salmon was, in this case, incorporated into a very light and smooth aïoli which had a mild flavor, just enough to enhance the salmon perfectly. I did not get to try the potatoes, though they looked very decent, plump and caramelized on the outside, speckled with coarse salt. The fried baby artichokes were a tad too tough and sharp around the edges to be comfortable to eat with the other more delicate ingredients. Otherwise, the dish was great – simpler than the rest but very elegant in that simplicity.

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Roasted Giannone Chicken. After asking our server which dish was Chef’s favorite, she responded without hesitation, “the roasted chicken.” So I, also without hesitation, decided to order it, despite my generally jaded attitude toward chicken as a (substitute for more interesting) protein. It turned out to be my favorite amongst everything I tried at Bergamot. The chicken breast was perfectly juicy and succulent, though mild in flavor as chicken tends to be. The crispy layer of skin added more flavor back in though, as the fat was seasoned very nicely and caramelized to golden perfection. The gummy, earthy Hedge hog mushrooms close by to the chicken also added some nice comforting fungal flavor into the flesh of the protein. The chicken was sliced and lain over something I’ve not had before – panko-crusted endive, a great idea nearly perfect in execution. The endive was breaded with panko and pan-fried to the point where the exterior was nice and crunchy, while the inside wilted a bit, softening into a texture similar to that of grilled eggplant. What I enjoyed most about this side was that the endive maintained that bitter twang its raw form is characterized by and this provided a great layer of complexity to the dish. Why “nearly perfect”? I would have liked the endive to be a tad firmer and stand up against the coarse, crispy coating. But this really is a minor criticism of something I did enjoy a lot. The bitterness of the endive was contrasted with a few plump and juicy sauteed apricots which seemed to be candied but were probably just naturally sweet. Some toasted pistachios were sprinkled over the top as a creative way to incorporate a crunch, which would have otherwise been missing from the dish. Finally, the whole dish was drizzled with a mixture of the savory and deep roasting liquid of the chicken, mixed in with some pungent whole grain mustard, whose grains scattered over the plate, brushing itself onto the many different ingredients on it. This was fine, however, as the chicken jus calmed the flavors of the mustard enough to make it go well with each ingredient. A very busy-looking dish indeed but with a protein, a fungus, a vegetable, a carb, a nut and a fruit which all managed to harmonize very nicely in the end. A lot of effort clearly went into this one – not surprising it’s Chef Keith’s fave.

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Black Olive Clafoutis. When I remember dessert, after a bottle of my favorite Ribolla and an even nicer little Beaujolais, with as much detail as my first bite of bread and butter – well, it’s a good sign. Closer to an actual clafoutis than the one at The Salty Pig, though still not quite the same thing, in my opinion, as it was not as runny and wet as the latter. But still very good. A cube of cake with a very dense, baked custard center and a grainier, slightly crispier exterior. This one was made with black olives, a delightful, savory play on the black cherries traditionally used in a clafoutis. The olives were noticeably drained of excess moisture so that the pungent flavor therein would not carry over to the batter surrounding it, but only be released when the olives were bitten into. Alongside the cube of clafoutis were two equally sized portions of a beautifully dense and very rich almond crumble whose moist interior melted almost like marzipan (which I guess it was not too far away from in definition) over my tongue. One of these was served with a very bright, acidic and smooth quenelle of Meyer lemon sorbet which contrasted the floral sweetness of the almond. The other was topped with a dollop of crème fraÎche mousse which was very light and airy and which diluted the sweetness of the almond instead of contrasting it like the sorbet on the other. Connecting these three sugary bites was a tadpole of Niçoise olive caramel, in which the olive added a hint of nuttiness and even a feint bitterness to the otherwise sticky sweet caramel. A great complement not just to the clafoutis but to the whole plate overall.

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Sticky Toffee Pudding. This was the only dessert I was not too crazy about, but it might be because I’ve now become bored with seeing this on menus all around Boston. Yes, the date cake was moist and the top was gooey, and yes, the clean, floral yet zingy ginger ice cream did wake up the palate from the sticky sweetness and refresh even it a bit. But otherwise, it was nothing I haven’t seen before. For presentation, a chunk of toffee was fixed into a dollop of creamy smooth mascarpone. The latter almost broke my teeth when I bit into it and then immediately stuck to them as the heat from my mouth melted the stuff, making it more of a pain in the ass to deal with than a treat.

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Devil Food Cake. What the Sticky Toffee Cake lacked in creativity and “Holy shit!” factor, this one definitely overflowed of. Somewhat of a deconstruction of a traditional Devil’s Food Cake in which two cubes of moist, airy, light chocolate cake were presented, interlaced with two cubes of incredibly dense, thick and smooth dark chocolate ganache, flavored with brown butter to give it even more of a slightly bitter flavor and a very rich texture. The separation of cake from its frosting allowed me the freedom to eat these elements in whichever order I chose. It also allowed me to try each element separately with the cool, nutty and creamy smooth sesame ice cream quenelle-d atop a cube of cake, as well as the droplets of funky sweet passion fruit curd and tangy, acidic blood orange juice spattered over the plate. Visually striking, with many separated elements (sweet, bitter, acidic, nutty) getting along just fine when combined.

To go with dessert, I ordered one of Bergamot’s after dinner libations, their Carlsbad Flip, which was made with Becherovka, Pineau de Charentes (a type of fortified wine made from a blend of fermented grape must and Cognac brandy), honey and whole egg. The cocktail was deliciously frothy but dense at the same time, with the whipped egg (whites and yolk, which Kai whipped with noticeable vigor behind the bar) adding most of the body. The bitterness of the Becherovka curbed the musky sweetness of the Charentes and a touch of sweet, floral honey aided the latter in the struggle against the bitter beast.

Overall, I had a great time at Bergamot. While many of the dishes were a bit busy with ingredients, most of them managed to find harmony in the end. I have heard some great things about the bar menu, which was unavailable to us dining room guests, so I will definitely be back for a glass or two of wine and a plate or two of bar-food. The Lobster Melt and Griddled Burger are at the top of my list.

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