Sandrine's, Harvard Sq., Cambridge (long)
Next to three decently sized chunks of seared foie gras is a clever intricate creation, a chunk of pear-shaped pear encased in caramelized sugar. Equally intricate is a fruit puree of some sort laced with star anise. Sweetness and dark spicy complexity pair very well with the chunks of seared foie gras. I'm not complaining, even though this falls slightly short of the best ones that are lightly seared and molten on the inside. The side of lightly toasted brioche (traditional for foie gras terrines but not pan seared pieces) has a characteristic brioche fluffiness the under the thin toasty crispness (ah, if and only if it was presented warm and straight from the oven....but that may be asking too much when so far from Alsace). Of course it's not as good as the Alsatian rendition, but I think that the kitchen has done its best with Hudson Valley duck liver. I'm reminiscing, not quibbling.
This dish is as sumptuous as the interiors of Sandrine's. Among the mellow, thick blue walls, luxurious rich red curtains and brass fittings are quaint painted country plates, elegant mirror art, and colorful paintings and posters that suggest France. It's a plush and comfortable place to dine, with just the right hint of decadence thrown in the mix.
It's good that the best dish of the tasting menu was the foie gras opener. After all, Alsace is the birthplace of foie gras (although I hear mutters of dissent from southwestern France). Besides, I'm in love with Alsace. I'd pass over Paris for Strasbourg in a heartbeat if I had to choose. Thus Sandrine's in Cambridge became a fateful inevitability.
I was worried that I might be disappointed, having dined at some of the more well known restaurants in Alsace, but Sandrine's acquitted itself fairly well tonight, even though it's a significant notch below its Alsatian counterparts. (After tonight, I have forgiven them for serving sausages and sauerkraut with a sacrilegious hotdog bun during the Bastille Day street fair.)
Plump mussels with a slightly tough edge came steamed in white wine, garlic, parsley and lots of chopped onions made a rustic second course. Best part: spooning off all the broth.
Lamb chops in a red wine sauce were grilled precisely. Very tender and so good that I forgave the papery skin on the slightly vinegary eggplant on the side. Good support from the mashed potatoes, a nice balance of butter and potato that one could taste both components.
The salad of soft (cooked?) pears, candied almonds, mixed greens, hard apple slices and blue cheese was pleasant; the ingredients fit together nicely.
For dessert (anything from the dessert menu), I opted for chocolate kugelholf. The shape of the baking mold justifies the kugelholf name, even though it's a deadly seductive concoction of chocolate, caramel and cream, not the traditional fruit cake. The light baking imparts a faint crust and mild warmth to the dark chocolate cake; I liked how that contrasted with the scoop of cool, soft vanilla ice cream. This is a straightforward combination of sweetness that takes no prisoners.
I think the Alsatian acknowledgments made by the kitchen go beyond a few standard nods. I noticed a plate of choucroute garnie (sauerkraut with a mix of sausages and meats) go by; there was a serious chunk of lard/bacon on it. Looks like they mean business.
On the whole, I was very satisfied with the hearty, honest and classic cooking. I was also happy to find that this Alsatian place promises the right regional touches. Nothing majorly inventive or cutting edge, but that's not what one goes after at a place like this. Prices were not outrageous; pre-tax for the tasting menu and a glass of Trimbach Tokay Pinot Gris (great with foie gras) came to $66.15.
Service was competent, friendly and personable, despite some less than perfect attentiveness.
Thanks to Karl S. for suggesting this place.