Brunch, Exchange Street Bistro, Malden
Well well well, a snazzily outfitted little bistro with a very economical brunch menu, no crowds, just a walk from my house? Don't mind if I do... I'd walked past the place a few times in town, and a short while ago someone on the board brought up that they served brunch on Sundays. I'd also seen it featured on a certain *mysterious* local restaurant review television show and I liked the chef's attitude: genuine and thoughtful. So we rocked over to the bistro this past weekend for some hot brunch action.
The place was busier in the front section, in front of the bar, which is backed by a sectional wall of pale green, frosted glass. The back section was nearly deserted and my dining companion and I were seated in one of the amply proportioned booths (could seat 6, no trouble). Dark wood, black (marble?) tabletops, and an inoffensively-volumed mix of music, from generic dance beats to jazz standards. Tap water was brought promptly, along with a pair of yeasty rolls with butter. Staff was capable if unremarkable, and kept the water and the coffee coming (huzzah). I ordered the crab cakes "benedict," very reasonable at $12, accompanied by house potatoes. Crab cakes were very tasty--they weren't made with big lumps of crab, as has been pointed out here in the past, but they were delicate and tasty nonetheless--and the eggs were perfectly poached. The hollandaise was tangier than I remember hollandaise being, but I think that reflects more on my hollandaise inexperience. The potatoes were the only weak element: they had a good moderate spice, included onion, and had a higher-than-average salt level, but they were a little...damp--like they'd been boiled, tossed in spice, and left in a pile. Too bad. My DC had the stuffed french toast, a total tower of power for only $9. Three thick texas toasts schmeared with mascarpone cheese (and did I detect a hint of maple in the mascarpone? I certainly hope so...) and topped with blueberry compote and a few peach wedges. Were the peach wedges canned? I fear so. Was the dish amazingly sweet and delicious? Yes. Her only complaint with the meal was her orange juice: it was akin to college dining services OJ, served from a spraying machine and containing no pulp. The juice didn't match the decor, for sure. I also missed a brunch cocktail menu--there was a martini list that had a few contenders, and I probably could have ordered one if I wanted one, but without the suggestions I defaulted to coffee.
The brunch menu is pretty limited, but if the two things we had are any indication, it's about quality and not quantity. The price is definitely right, and I plan to go again and again. With the large back seating area nearly vacant for our entire visit, I got the feeling that perhaps a girl could show up with her Sunday Times and linger over a relaxed brunch and cuppa coffee.
So, last week's hit was this week's miss. We happened to go again this past Sunday with a friend in town and things went less well.
I had the smoked salmon "benedict," and it was the kind of thing that a less shy person than myself would have sent back. Eggs tremendously overdone, paltry salmon, no avocado (as described on the menu--wish they would have told me!), and a hollandaise sauce that I could have sworn my well-meaning waiter called "light." As if I'd ever ask for low-cal hollandaise. Potatoes again disappointing: I think I'll stick with the non-potato-bearing dishes henceforth--that layered french toast seemed dependable.
My dining companions had the smoked salmon platter (better salmon than I got...) and the appetizer pizza with duck confit, and they also split a french onion soup. The pizza, while deliciously salty (to my palette), was overly oily, like they'd drizzled it when it came out of the oven. The soup was hearty, but it contained green onion as well as caramelized yellow onion (an odd choice in my book).
Service was again pleasant if unremarkable, and the coffee was tasty. Oh, and, this time around they gave me a cocktail menu--I guess I looked my age...
"The juice didn't match the decor, for sure."
This is exactly my gripe about this place. We have found, too, that the food is hit or miss, with evidence of food that has been preprepared then rewarmed (sometimes it's not so warm). But what really gets me is that they seem to be putting on airs - you nailed it in that the *food* does not match the decor. It is not bad in and of itself, but with the high falutin' look of the place, I can't help but feel like they are just a bunch of fakers when I get those soggy potatoes or that marshmallowy, cheap bun under my burger.
It's like they expect they can cut corners while they distract customers with the pretty marble tables.
Hate that. Love their drinks, though. The pear martini with blue cheese stuffed olives is great!
We love this place, but know its limits. The food is definitely hit or miss, but for Malden it is great!
First time we went, it was very WOW, second and third times, not so much. I've found that ordering the specials is usually a good choice. They seem to pay more attention to their specials. As you pointed out, many of their items are prepared ahead of time and then sit. Hate that!
They do make an awesome crab cake. Even without the lump crab, it is very tasty.