Restaurants & Bars 1

First visit to Zebra's, Medfield, MA

MC Slim JB | Jan 11, 200805:56 AM

I'm a lifelong city-dweller; I start to hyperventilate a little when I get into the wide open spaces beyond the 128 beltway. Driving here from downtown Boston takes me a good 50 minutes with no traffic. Pike to 128 to Rt 109W, then through Westwood, Dover, and Walpole to get to Medfield. I arrive a little disoriented.

Pleasant enough look: blond wood tables and, hard chairs, soothing earth tones, local art on the walls, very much in keeping with their avid self-promotion as an "unpretentious bistro." Huge weeknight crowd at the bar, eating, drinking, and watching the game on the big TV. In the dining room, groups of the Eastern MA equivalent of "Desperate Housewives" having a loud girls' night out, clusters of what look like Wellesley girls, older couples, everyone quite casually dressed.

I expect a modest New American menu, but I'm surprised instead to see a) a long list of sushi and sashimi; b) a fairly ambitious menu of New American dishes with rather high prices, most entrees $25-35; and c) some luxury-priced grilled steaks and chops. Wine list is predictably Napa-centric with a lot of price-gouging on over-familiar marquee wines. Wines by-the-glass are decent, but very small pours in cheap stemware.

The food is admirably executed, but I get the feeling this chef could use some editing: every dish has at least one idea too many. Example: the complimentary white-bean spread has garlic (good) and truffle oil (not so good: it overwhelms the other flavors) AND a big dusting of Parmesan (utterly superflous), plus the foccaccia it's served with has more cheese baked on. I think this would taste better (and be more unpretentious-bistro-like) as a garlicky white bean spread with plain foccaccia.

Sushi is pretty okay, nothing special. It's odd to see an itamae working in the middle of an unpretentious-bistro setting, set up halfway between the raucous bar and sedate dining room.

This being America, portions are ridiculously oversized. We manage to get through about a third of our entrees and doggie-bag the rest (a practice I mostly loathe). This chef clearly likes to load up entrees and sides alike with butter, as evidenced by how the leftover mashed potatoes solidify in my fridge. It's also possible to drop $38 on a pedigreed sirloin here, but the green peppercorn au poivre treatment doesn't sound like a good idea at all.

Dessert is another example of overthinking: a pumpkin bread pudding consisting of: a) an excellent, very smooth, very clearly pumpkin-flavored custard underneath (beautiful); b) a layer of bread cubes baked on top (okay, so now it's bread pudding); c) a scoop on the side of house-made apple ice cream (also excellent, and pairing beautifully with the pudding); and d) a small gravy boat of espresso/chocolate sauce, extremely rich and concentrated in flavor, like a melted truffle, but matching up terribly flavor-wise with the other two ingredients. Just a bit of this sauce clobbers the other delicate elements in the dish. I'm glad I didn't dump it on top of everything.

Service is attentive and extremely pleasant. One of the press quotes prominently posted says "If it were in the city, Zebra's would instantly be a hotspot." Actually, no: city diners would expect the bistro menu to be about 50% less expensive, the sushi to be extraordinary, and the "South Dakota aged prime Black Angus" sirloin to be simply grilled and served unadorned. And for this place to be three separate restaurants.

I can understand why Zebra's does what it does: it's in the middle of some of Boston's wealthiest exurbs (Medfield, Dover, Sherborn). Medfield's entire roster of other dining options is Friendly's, Papa Gino's, D'Angelo's, Subway, two pizza joints, a Thai place, and something called Basil. I'm sure it's worth the premium Zebra's charges to save its customers from having to drive all the way to Boston for a fine-dining meal. I imagine brunch, the occasional live jazz, and seasonal outdoor seating to be pleasant. It's probably the only place to get sushi and a real cocktail for miles. But I was very relieved to head back home to the city, where this kind of food is done much better, much more affordably.

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