Will Gilson. Jamie Bissonnette. Louis DiBiccari. Recognize these three names?
Not only are these men best friends, but they are three of the most talented chefs in Boston. In the past year, all three culinary masterminds have taken on new projects. Will Gilson opened Puritan & Co. in Inman Square in Cambridge, Jamie Bissonnette put Coppa and Toro into capable hands to open Toro NYC and Louis DiBiccari welcomed guests to his new venture, Tavern Road.
I have been wanting to go to Tavern Road since it opened in February. I've been following Louis' career for quite a while and the initial buzz for the place was great.
Last week, I was invited to a media dinner to sample Tavern Road's autumn menu. It's not really fair to even categorize the menu like that, as the offerings change daily, but we'll get to that.
Tavern Road is located on Congress Street in that strange part of Boston that's not quite the Financial District, not quite the Seaport and not quite South Boston. The area is known as Fort Point and has become home to several restaurant gems including Barbara Lynch's Sportello (and of course, Drink) and Ming Tsai's Blue Dragon.
The evening of the dinner, I walked to the restaurant from work. The sign glowed over the dark street (hello, daylight savings).
Tavern Road has a sign above the door and a sign on the far wall of their building. It shines like the bat signal into the night sky.
I love the way the sign looks as you face the city. It almost looks like it's part of the skyline.
Though it was chilly out, the doors to the bar area of the restaurant were wide open. I learned that the bar opens at 4:30pm and it gets packed after work. Though the Fort Point area is still figuring itself out, many start ups have moved to the area and those hard working geniuses need drinks!
Once all the guests arrived, our party was seated at a long table in the center of the dining room. Notice the mural on the wall that has a Tavern Road street sign painted into the center.
No matter where you sit in the dining room, you are able to see into the open kitchen. Chef Louis and team are right there, just feet from you, preparing the meals. If you walk up the counter they will happily talk to you about what they are prepping and answer any questions about their creations.
As we settled into our table, we were each handed a menu and I couldn't help but notice that the bottom of the menu encouraged guests to follow the restaurant on social media. As a person who works full time in the social media world, I want to give the Tavern Road team a giant high five. The best way to ensure you are capturing people's reactions to your restaurant online is to give them the correct places to interact with you.
We started the evening with drinks. Tavern Road has a very sophisticated bar program lead by Ryan McGrale. Ryan rose through the ranks at No. 9 Park and spent some time in New York City before returning to Boston to run the beverage program at Hawthorne. He has since moved over to Tavern Road where he is creating unique, seasonal cocktails to delight guests.
I wasn't sure which cocktail to go with because nothing was sticking out to me as containing my usual go-to ingredients, so I took a recommendation for our waiter. He suggested a drink called the Swedish Avalanche. It was Swedish Punsch, pineapple, lime juice, grenadine and Decanter bitters. The waiter described it as, "A fall take on fruit punch."
That was a very accurate description and I loved the drink. It was light and sweet, but didn't have that sugary taste that can sometimes come with ingredients like pineapple or grenadine. Had I not been driving home after the dinner, I certainly would have had a second. And probably a third.
Our first bite of food came in the form of a parmesan rosemary focaccia roll. When you taste that kind of parmesan cheese, it's shameful to admit that you used to sprinkle parmesan cheese onto your food out of a plastic shaker.
The top part of the roll (the part with the crisped parmesan) was the best part. Bites of the bottom of the roll without the cheese didn't taste as sensational.
Next up was the charcuterie, which is Tavern Road's specialty. Chef Louis cures all his own meats and makes his own pates. If you follow him on Instagram, @louis_dibicarri, you'll get a daily dose of his charcuterie preparations.
The charcuterie came on a long board, covered in thin white paper. Each item stood out against the white backdrop and you could really see the care put into each and every component.
While the carnivores at the table rejoiced with every bite of cured meat, I sampled the warm ricotta with grilled bread.
The ricotta was topped with cranberry jam and roasted hazelnuts. It had such a lovely fall flavor combined with a creamy texture. I had to hold back from continuing to eat it because I knew there was more deliciousness coming.
After the charcuterie and ricotta, Chef Louis himself came to the table with a bite for everyone. The rest of the group had whipped lardo atop the bread, but I had sun choke puree. I have to say, Chef Louis could not have been more accommodating to my vegetarianism. This would be the first of many dishes he altered for me.
Keeping with the sun choke theme, we moved onto the sun choke soup. It was topped with walnuts, dried cranberries and olive oil. I could so easily see this as the first course of Thanksgiving dinner.
The sun choke has a similar taste to artichoke and I felt like this soup had that strong artichoke-like taste. It was a small portion and I was glad, as that concentrated flavor is good in small doses.
Post-soup, the table was treated to Prince Edward Island mussels sprinkled with pomegranate seeds. What dish isn't made better by the addition of pomegranate seeds? I mean, really.
For the main course, the meat eaters were delivered lamb osso buco. Every person who tasted this dish had the same reaction: eyes rolling into the back of their head, a sound of sheer satisfaction, followed by some version of the declaration, "This is fantastic!" Everyone described the lamb as tender and falling right off the bone.
There was an army of side dishes, starting with the foraged mushroom risotto. I didn't sample this one as it was made with chicken broth and topped with chicken skin, but each person at the table raved about it.
The rest of the sides were vegetarian, a decision Louis said, "I was totally conscious of. The sides have to be for everyone."
The first side, the butternut squash, was comprised of beautiful fall colors.
There was also spaetzle, a dish I was unfamiliar with before this dinner. It's a noodle dish similar to macaroni and cheese.
I was very excited about the polenta topped with egg, but unfortunately the dish was very bland.
For my entree, I was presented with a house made tagliatelle topped with butternut squash, Brussels sprouts and mushroom. It was incredible. The pasta was fresh, the veggies were packed with flavor and there was some type of creamy sauce (or perhaps cheese) binding it all together in scrumptious bite after scrumptious bite.
Just when we thought we'd seen it all, Louis brought a surprise to the table - a lamb shoulder. One of the things I learned throughout this dinner was how much Chef Louis loves his meats. He knows where every animal comes from (sometimes even going to the farms himself), he helps butcher, he's constantly dreaming up new recipes and when he has an abundance of a certain type of meat, he plans an entire special menu around it.
It was at this point that I think we were all considering loosening our belts or unbuttoning the top of our pants. We were so full!
While we digested, Louis came and sat with us at the head of our table. He talked to us for at least 20 minutes about his goals for the restaurant, why he's excited about the Fort Point area and the transformation it's going through, the other restaurants planning to join the growing community and of course, shenanigans between him and his fellow chef buddies.
We were all ready to roll home when Louis surprised us with every single item on the dessert menu. No exaggeration.
Earlier in the night, Louis told us they originally didn't have a dessert menu, but the team recently decided to hire a pastry chef and they couldn't be happier with the outcome.
The dessert menu features three kinds of ice cream sundaes (my kind of place!). The first was baked apple ice cream, rosemary puff pastry and bourbon apple sauce. You know how I feel about fruit dessert, so I only took a teeny bite of this one.
I did however absolutely inhale the Mexican chocolate ice cream with smoked caramel sauce and cocoa nib florentine. The kick in the Mexican chocolate was awesome.
There was also a pumpkin ice cream with gingerbread crepe, maple cream, pepitas and pecans. I didn't get a chance to snap a picture of that one, but it was divine. I can't get enough pumpkin this time of year.
When I saw the chocolate tort I was immediately intrigued. I always say, the more chocolate the better. Unfortunately the texture of this dessert didn't taste quite right to me and I tapped out after two small bites.
Tavern Road's take on a fruit tart was beautifully presented and accompanied by a scoop of ice cream. I didn't sample this one, so I can't comment on the taste.
I'm never going to turn down a cookie plate. Tavern Road's version has a little something for everyone, perfect if you are having coffee or tea.
Towards the end of dessert, Louis joined us again at the table and just sat and chatting for another half hour. He asked what new restaurants we had great meals at, what openings we were looking forward to and he gave a strong endorsement for Nookie's new place Commonwealth. In case you aren't familiar, Nookie used to be the executive chef at Fenway Park and became a celebrity during his stint on "Top Chef."
By the end of the night a few things really stood out to me: first, Chef Louis is incredibly down to earth and above all, wants to provide a unique and exceptional experience for his diners and the local Fort Point community. Second, Louis and his team take great pride in knowing where their food comes from and celebrating it. Third, Tavern Road's menu is constantly changing based on what's fresh, so you can always look forward to something new that celebrates the season.
If you haven't been to Tavern Road yet, make a point to check it out. If you work in the area, you can also check out TR Street Food, Tavern Road's lunch spot adjacent to the restaurant.
Thank you to Chef Louis and the whole Tavern Road team for a spectacular evening. I can't wait to come back.