Since it first opened I have been wanting to check out Little Donkey in Central Square in Cambridge. The restaurant is a collaboration between two of Boston's best chefs, Ken Oringer and Jamie Bissonnette. The chefs are also partners in two other Boston hot spots, Toro and Coppa (both in the South End).
Little Donkey is located in the heart of Central Square, right on Massachusetts Avenue. In the nice weather, the bar windows are open to the street.
Inside, the restaurant is bustling. The space is much bigger than it looks from the street with a long dining room ending at the open kitchen in the rear.
My friend and I were seated against the back wall with a great view of the kitchen. We kept craning our necks around to see what dishes were being delivered to other nearby tables.
The Little Donkey menu is organized into five sections - charcuterie, hors d'oeuvres, pasta & grains, vegetables & salads and meat & fish.
While we were looking over the dinner menu, we started with the restaurant's signature drink, the donkey punch. The drink is served in a hollowed out orange and is a mixture of cimarron, cherry heering, punt e mes and grapefruit.
It's like having your very own, personal scorpion bowl. In order to sip the drink you have to lift it toward your lips with both hands.
After a few sips my friend said, "This tastes like a grape juice box." I replied, "Really? Mine tastes like 100 percent booze."
We spent a while deciding which plates to share and asking advice from our waitress. She knew the ingredients and preparation of every single dish and was able to point me toward meat dishes that could be made vegetarian.
The first plate we shared was the charred avocado topped with pomegranate molasses, yogurt and pepitas.
You could really taste the pomegranate in every bite. The crunch of the pepitas was a nice contrast to the soft avocado.
We also shared the little gem salad with tomatoes, onions and croutons. The dish was topped with a "Louis" dressing, which our waitress explained is a take on thousand island dressing.
I was worried this dish would be too simple, but I really enjoyed it. The lettuce was super fresh, the onions added a nice bite and the croutons were delightfully crunchy. The dressing was delicious and much lighter than a traditional thousand island.
Next up, the BLT lettuce wraps. Since these were DIY, I was able to make one without bacon. The plate comes with Bibb lettuce, lamb bacon, pimento cheese, tomato jam, mayo, pickled red onion, tomatoes and peaches.
The pickled red onion was tucked under the mountain of lettuce.
My friend was very excited about the lamb bacon. She described, "It has a crispy outside, but it's still juicy in the middle." When she took her first bite of the bacon she said, "Mmmm. That's good. Wow." We both agreed that the lettuce was the perfect vehicle for these mini wraps. We were also both in agreement that everything tastes better with pimento cheese.
For our last savory dish we shared the wok fried chow fun, which is typically served with escargot. The kitchen was kind enough to make a version snail-free so I could enjoy it.
The chow fun is rice noodles, mushrooms, Calabrian chili and black beans. For me, the dish was very salty.
For our grand finale we ordered the chocolate chip cookie dough with milk espuma and cocoa nibs. I am obsessed with this presentation! I love the cookie on the single mixing beater.
Eating this dessert feels just like licking the spoon when you bake at home. It feels like you are getting away with something. The chocolate chip cookie dough didn't have the granular taste that cookie dough can have from the brown sugar, but it was still super delicious. The milk espuma as a much stronger dairy taste than whipped cream from a can.
I had really high expectations for Little Donkey and I hate to say this, but I wasn't wowed. While I found all of the dishes, even the cocktails, to be creative, unique and fun, there isn't a single dish that I am dying to have again.
Little Donkey is now open for breakfast and lunch, so I definitely want to go back for other meals and explore more of the menu offerings. And of course, drink more donkey punch.