322 Washington Street, Brighton
Open MonĖWed, 11 a.m.Ė3 p.m. and 5Ė10 p.m.; ThuĖFri, 11 a.m.Ė3 p.m. and 5Ė11 p.m.; Sat, 10 a.m.Ė3 p.m. and 5Ė11 p.m.; and Sun, 10 a.m.Ė3 p.m. and 5Ė10 p.m.
AE, DC, Di, MC, Vi
Street parking and free parking lot
Impressed by the American bistro food at Orleans, in Somerville, I decided to take a look at its parent, Devlinís, which opened three years ago, reportedly to oblige the hungrier patrons of the neighboring Porter Bellyís with real sit-down dinners. In fact, Devlinís has come along nicely in this category of post-Irish, post-pub food, and is now a very decent middle-class restaurant, slightly more expensive and better than Orleans. It wonít challenge the Ritz, but it has complicated and interesting food for all ages at moderate prices, some of it quite good.
Although this is a handsome duplex space with serious modern chandeliers and walls in dark green, maroon, and cream, lunch is rather less formal than dinner, and even includes shepherdís pie ($7.50) in a salty but savory version, with the mashed potatoes on top slightly browned in the oven, and peas and carrots (the Irish-flag colors) among the minced beef. You also get a little salad of dressed field greens served in a ramekin. Thatís about it for Irish dishes, although our dayís cream-of-cauliflower soup ($2.50/cup; $4/bowl) had the meaty stock of an Irish-pub clam chowder, with a solid aftertaste of cauliflower. A lentil-andouille soup ($2.50/$4) was made of hot sausage and vegetables diced so fine that one could not deconstruct the flavors ó it was just good lentil soup.
A "hot Havana" ($8.95) is a rather credible Cuban sandwich, despite being made on white sandwich bread (real Cuban sandwiches are on white-bread rolls), having grill marks like a panino (real Cuban sandwiches are grilled on a flat grill, not a George Foreman), and adding a spicy barbecue sauce (which even some Miami Cubans do, when no one is looking). Nobody is driving over from Jamaica Plainís Cuban restaurants to get one of these, but no one from Brighton has to make the opposite drive when that craving for a pork sandwich gets too urgent. You get very decent thin French fries with this.
At dinner, however, Devlinís is a serious restaurant, where you can order, say, Maine crab and corn cakes ($10), or "seared scallops in a cilantro broth with carrot, scallion, bean sprouts, and rendered pancetta" ($10). In fact, we ordered both these appetizers for this very review. The latter is a very effective bit of fusion food. Crunchy bits of unsmoked bacon (for such is pancetta) are exactly what Asian salads have been needing all along, and four nicely seared bay scallops are no problem in this context either. It was odd to have the scallops piping hot, the vegetables cold, and the broth lukewarm, but it might have been artfully odd rather than funny-peculiar. Cilantro broth, of course, tastes more like soy sauce than cilantro, but itís hard to make anything but cilantro leaves taste like cilantro.
The crab cakes are mostly meat, and sweet corn tastes enough like sweet crab to fit into the smallish fried patties, disappearing when you chew the hot cherry-pepper caps on each patty. The chef is smart enough to use bell peppers in the pepper aïoli.
The chef is also smart enough to make a salad of smoked trout, avocado, pink grapefruit, and frisée ($8) with a horseradish-cream dressing whipped to a thrilling froth. Unfortunately, he or she was not tough enough to demand a ripe avocado, and an unripe avocado in a salad like this, where the trout is soft and luscious, is like a slice of rubber ball in an omelet, at least for the first bite.
Seared Pacific halibut ($24) is an outstanding entrée. The fish is light and nicely crusted, perhaps over-salted, but delicious. It rests on a couple of cakes of fried mashed potatoes (just a little Irishness), two cold fried portabella-mushroom slices (like an Italian antipasto), and lots of cress in a good dressing. A dish of broccolini ($4) is sautéed in oil and garlic, as God and the Italo-American plant breeders intended.
Chicken ravioli ($14/half order; $20/full) is good food, but overly complicated. Chicken is already a little too prosaic as a stuffing for ravioli, but the right way to sell it would be with a single herb in the filling, or an herbal tomato sauce. Instead we have a mad hatterís salsa of tomatillo, grape tomatoes, sliced fennel, corn, and leeks. Thatís way too many flavors, especially the sour green-tomatillo sauce, and the dish is very hard to eat. It isnít Mexican, it isnít Italian, and it isnít immediately likable, either.
The dessert menu features glasses of old whiskeys, but we settled for thin, burnt decaf ($2) and rather good herbal tea ($2), brewed in the cup but from loose tea in a large paper tea bag open on top. The wine list is short but sound. A glass of 2003 Matua Valley Sauvignon Blanc ($7/glass; $26/bottle) was too cold and filled a too-small glass, but still had the pineapple and new-mown-hay aromas of New Zealand sauvignon blanc, and went well with seafood.
The signature dessert is "Devlinís own vanilla baked Alaska with a wild blueberry compote" ($7). Baked Alaska is like fried ice cream, except the coating is sweet meringue instead of sodden breading, and the blueberries carry some average vanilla ice cream.
We also tried the "trio of chefís selection artisanal cheese" ($7). Cheese plates are not a game for beginners. The portions were generous, and the plate would serve two or even four, but the cheeses were undistinguished. The best was a creamy blue cheese, the least was a feta no different from what you can get in the supermarket. In fact, many supermarkets now have goat and sheep fetas from France or Israel or Bulgaria that are better. The artisanal part was, perhaps, the goat cheeses, which had been artfully rolled in red-pepper flakes (a dubious practice) and dried herbs (maybe sometimes), but almost certainly in the kitchen of Devlinís, not on some farm.
Service was truly excellent, from a waitress who actually knew how confit duck was made and what it would taste like. Despite fashionable décor and high ceilings, the restaurant isnít too loud or dark, and a number of people I would take for middle-aged or older Irish- or Anglo-Americans were entirely comfortable at an early dinner hour. The background music began with some light techno, then moved on to the Gipsy Kings.
The food at Devlinís can get fancy, but much of the best is unpretentious. The crowd is even less pretentious than that. The old problem of food in Irish restaurants and pubs is almost completely solved here, and there was never an issue with Irish-American hospitality.
Robert Nadeau can be reached at RobtNadeau@aol.com