Monday, March 21, 2011

Lunch at Summer Winter

For my second winter Restaurant Week lunch, I went with my friend Jean to Summer Winter, which is in a Marriott in Burlington.

That's right: lunch at a chain hotel in the 'burbs.

But I had high expectations; Jean, who loves food as much as I do, had been there before and reported back positively, so I knew it would be good.

Even when we arrived to find a Compaq seminar in full swing at the hotel.

Even when we passed the fauxing "Irish" pub, decked out in faith-and-begorrah cartoon kitsch.

Even when the room next door seemed to be hosting a Charles Schwab-sponsored buffet.

The entrance to Summer Winter is warm wood and textured stone, which kind of evokes Tuscany or perhaps Napa.

It's a big space, with a long bar with lounge area, a small oyster bar and a few dining tables on one level, and a lower level with even more tables. There's also an outside patio with a greenhouse, where they grow herbs and veggies all year round to use in the kitchen.

Given the backgrounds of Summer Winter's two chefs, one of whom spent time in Beijing, I expected a diverse and adventurous menu.

But both the Restaurant Week and regular lunch menus focused on yer usual New England lunch favorites: soup, salads, sandwiches. Lobster roll with french fries. Cheeseburger with french fries. Tomato soup and grilled cheese. Crab cakes; clam chowder; chopped salad.

Jean said, "We should get the strange-flavored eggplant."

Was she kidding? Nope, there it was on the menu. So we did.

Oh boy. The flavor wasn't so much strange as awesome. But I guess if they called it "awesome-flavored eggplant" it would seem to be over-promising.

It was soy sauce and ginger and brown sugar and red pepper and lime; it hit every kind of taste bud and made them all smile.

Jean ordered the cod burger (with french fries). It looked exactly like every burger everywhere.

But the fries were surprisingly good — crispy on the outside, soft and fluffy inside — and they were still good cold; they didn't dry out or lose texture.

The burger was more like a traditional fish cake, with the cod combined with mashed potato; good comfort food.

I had a tempura haddock curry, which came in a nice plating with peanuts, pickled veggies, and fried shallots.

The curry was light and sweet and coconutty; the fish was fresh, and it was fun to try different taste combinations (nuts and curry! Shallots and fish! Fish and strange-tasting eggplant!)

And then we had to have dessert, of course. Of course.

My lemon tart was bright and zesty, and came with the added bonus of a brulée-like sugar crust.

Jean went for the blueberry upside-down cake, which had a fabulous topping of sugar and fruit and a lovely, light hint of lemon.

Summer Winter is an interesting place; its menus seem aimed at the diner who is more comfortable with recognizable dishes. Dinner is much like lunch, with the addition of the usual suspects: filet mignon and steamed lobster and roast chicken.

But there's a level of creativity and skill that isn't always found at steak houses and other (shudder) "fine dining" places. It's a definite step up from the nearest decent restaurant, Legal Sea Foods, and I'd choose Summer Winter over Legals from now on, given the option.

Even if just for more of the blueberry cake.

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