Sunday, December 18, 2011

Saloon in Somerville is a swell joint

Okay, before we start, it's important to have this tune playing in the background as you read.


This week saw the opening of Saloon in Davis Square. Owned by the same people who run Foundry on Elm, Saloon angles itself as a pre-Prohibition joint. But this is no sleazy speakeasy; it's a ritzy juice joint, see?

Saloon, Somerville

Entrance is via a narrow door on Elm Street, marked by two glowing orb lights. And here's the odd time-travel thing: I worked next door in the Gorin Building for two years, and I have no recollection of seeing that door before. And when I check Google Streetview (which is a little outdated, as it still shows McIntyre and Moore — sob!) it's not clear where the door should be. So, you know. Spookeh.

Down a flight of stairs is a windowless (and TV-less, amazingly; I assumed all bars in Davis Square were required by law to show ESPN at all times) room, handsomely outfitted in dark, heavy woodwork sourced from the now-closed Newbury Street branch of Capital Grille. The bar dominates one end of the room, with the dining area at the other. UrbanDaddy has a nice slideshow of the interior.

Is there drink? Yes, there's drink; a 200-plus library of liquors, including bourbons, ryes, single malts and white whiskeys. Many of them are available in three serving options: on the rocks, Old Fashioned or Manhattan.

Whiskey menu, Saloon, Somerville

On our first visit, on Thursday, we stuck to cocktails: The Boy tried the Old Pal (rye, aperol, averna) and I had the Brown Derby (rum, antica formula, maraschino, mole bitters). Both lovely, well-balanced drinks.

Last night I started with the Ward 44 (because pork belly whiskey) and ended with another Brown Derby; apparently my new tastebuds have decided that bitter and aromatic are Good Things in a drink. The Boy started with an Old Fashioned made with Willett bourbon and moved to neat, smoky Russell's Rare.

One could, if one was so inclined, take on the liquor menu as a winter project. Also a spring one.

Is there food? Oh lord, is there ever food. The menu at Saloon isn't huge — a handful of appetizers and around nine entrees — but it makes me happy in every way.

When we went on Thursday, my goal was to have the steak and kidney pie. Because even though it's often used as a cheap way of saying English food is crap, a well-made S&K is a thing of beauty, and they're pretty much impossible to find over here.

I was a tad concerned when I saw the price ($26? Serious?) but then our waitress explained it served two. And indeed it did.

OMG steak and kidney awesomeness pie, Saloon, Somerville

The crust was buttery and flaky and, as is right and proper, nicely moistened on the underside with pie gravy. The steak was fall-apart tender, the kidney was earthy, and there were generous chunks of carrot and mushroom (I'm prepared to overlook the latter). The gravy was rich, deep, complex. The whole thing was perfect.

So I say to you: If you've never had steak and kidney pie, you should absolutely go to Saloon. And take a friend, 'cuz it's large.

(Oh, and sorry there's no photo. Saloon is a dark place and the only shots I took, using the flash, made the interior of the pie look scary.)

On our Saturday night visit, we started with a charcuterie plate. All the meats are made in-house by someone who clearly knows their stuff. Best were the prosciutto and the salami; note how they're marbled with sweet fat. Delicate, not overly seasoned, so the flavor of the meat came through.

House-made proscuitto, Saloon, Somerville

House-made salami, Saloon, Somerville

And then I went for the bubble and squeak, another fine English dish, traditionally intended as a way to use up leftover veggies from Sunday lunch. This one involved very flavorful root veggies and Brussels sprouts, topped with sausage and finished with a rich onion gravy.

Bubble and Squeak, Saloon, Somerville

The Boy ordered the flatiron steak au poivre, which came nicely medium-rare with fries and creamed spinach.

Sorry, that should be: with creamed spinach finished with shaved parmesan, and fries IN A SILVER BUCKET.

Flatiron steak au poivre, Saloon, Somerville

Creamed spinach, Saloon, Somerville

Fries in a silver pail, Saloon, Somerville

The fries, BTW, were so good that I award them the highest honor: they were chips. Real proper chips.

After this enormous amount of food, we really shouldn't have had dessert. But it was trifle, so.

Trifle, Saloon, Davis Square, Somerville

Bavarian cream, dulce de leche-soaked sponge, candied hazlenuts. Apparently Saloon only offers one dessert at a time. But frankly, one is all you need.

It's also worth noting that Saloon doesn't offer coffee (because bars didn't in the 1900s), a fact which took the pompous actor types at the next table ("It's so sad that I'd never be allowed to direct at the Globe in London because I'm American") by horrified surprise. Deal, people. The Diesel is close by, though apparently you preferred to go to Starbucks, thanks for sharing.

Sorry; it's been a while since I snarked about diners who converse in outside voices to people sitting three feet away. This bunch was particularly annoying.

That aside, dinner was fabulous. As we walked home, we talked about the fact that we no longer have to go into Boston to find good food and thoughtfully made cocktails. Between Pizzeria Posto, Foundry and Saloon (not to mention longstanding favorites like Redbones and Tu y Yo, and the soon-to-open Painted Burro), we're pretty well sorted. And that's just the cat's pajamas.

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