Had dinner tonight at Arbor, a new restaurant on Centre St. in Jamaica Plain.
VERY short version: Go, and go now (before they lose that "we're really trying" edge.)
Short version: fancy food, billed as "Southern French and Mediterranean," very inventive, beautiful and -- best of all -- very delicious! Good service (slow kitchen), low light, small place (~ 40 seats). Design of the room is "very tasteful, but spare," I suppose. Prices at the low end of "pricey" (mezze $6, appetizers, salads $7-10, main courses $16-22, wines and apéritifs (good selection of the later) $6-10 per glass. Prices by the bottle are all over the map, from modest to Yikes!)
Way too long version:
The rest of this too-long post is just purely self-indulgent recollection of the meal and its pleasures. You should probably skip it and just go try the place yourself. :-)
Now for the fun part:
Wednesday night (7/30/03) there were three of us at dinner, one of whom used to work for the Muse of History down in the Back Bay.
6 mezze on the menu. We got a taste of all for $16:
Roasted eggplant with a couple of wide shavings of some cheese like parmesan tented on top. Perfectly roasted, sweet, savoury.
Marinated goat cheese (oil and Herbs de Provence, but not too heavy on the Lavender) This was a hit!
Brochette of lamb (like Kafta). Spicy, good, but the Cacik (tzatziki, whatever) underneath was great (cucumbers in yoghurt)
One perfectly grilled little shrimp with a few basil leaves, sitting on top of a smooth pale green sauce that might have had melon in it? Very good.
"fennel-marinated salmon" was like real homemade Grav'laks, lying in a small pool of sweet and sharp mustard sauce, not overpowering, but perfectly complementing. (I don't know how "Mediterranean" this was, but it sure was tasty)
Roasted sweet peppers, with maybe something else roasted with them? an olive or two on the side. These were also perfect of their kind.
Plus, they brought some OK Hummus and very good boule-type sliced bread before the Mezze. and refilled it during.
A First course
Salad of Boston lettuce, Medjool dates, oil cured olives, oranges, and a few slivered toasted almonds. Mighty fine!
Orange and olive salad is a standard North African thing, and it's a great combo, but intense, as you might imagine. Mixing it with lettuce tones it down, the little bits of dates help soften the O.J in the dressing, and the almonds add some texture and a subtle richness. Oh, and a sprig of chervil here or there. Despite the several intense ingredients, this salad was refreshing and light and subtle -- never overpowering. A good example of "cross Mediterranean" fusion.
My formerly bemused friend had the Pappardelle with Duck Confit and Field Mushrooms -- only without the duck, please. (search me, I'm an omnivore, myself...) The kitchen obliged, and she claimed it was good, and the noodles looked like the real deal (little blisters, etc.), but "field mushrooms" seem to be *very* closely related to button mushrooms... :-)
In any case, I was too involved in the other two dishes to get more than a taste of the noodles.
I had herb crusted sea bass (a 2 X 6 piece of filet, cooked perfectly, with a crispy skin (slashed to let the heat through) surrounded by a few roasted beets, the filet sitting on top of the sauteed beet greens, some sauteed cabbage (?) and the whole surrounded by a reduction sauce plus basil/herb sauce, a few crystals of sea salt scattered in the edges just in case you wanted another surprise
(I swear, they could use some ever-so-slightly brighter lighting. The presentation's fine, and could stand the exposure. Or maybe I just need glasses...).
My other friend had the spicy roasted lamb with toasted cous cous. Now, maybe couscous is always this good, but somehow, I doubt it. It was the size of salmon eggs and the oddest (but pleasant) texture -- almost like the whites of cooked eggs, but with the taste of al dente pasta (sort of). They must have actually steamed it over broth of some kind, because it *did* have a subtle taste of its own. The lamb seemed to have been marinated, perhaps in some yoghurt and spice mixture, but it was juicy, tender and soft all the way through. It was "spicy" but not pepper-hot. The reduction sauce around it was great. Underneath the lamb (and on top of the cous cous) there was some kind of orange-based something or other that was almost like a savoury pre-marmalade -- of onions and oranges??. It sounds shocking, and it was, but this intensely sweet-savoury bit (whatever on earth it was) balanced perfectly with the meatiness of the lamb and the smooth blandness of the couscous. Once again, a great re-working of themes here.
We punked out. Sorry. That's the price I pay for dining with otherwise-wonderful people who're burdened with things like "moderation" and "restraint" and such.
Without further comment, I'll just report Arbor offered, among 4-5 other things:
strawberries w/ balsamic vinegar, a vanilla bean sauce with black pepper.
pot de creme (like chocolate mousse, only *really* chocolaty)
selection of artisanal New England cheeses.
Arbor is at 711 Centre St. near where Borroughs and Green St. comes in (near Wonder Spice, Bokhara, etc.). It's easy to miss. They have an entrance off the parking lot in back, too. The have a website, but it's only a billboard at present (arborjp.com)
You can walk there from the sailboats at Jamaica Pond. :-)