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T W Foods, Huron Village, Cambridge (v. long)

limster May 25, 2007 10:29 PM

An oyster shooter with a succulent Maine pemaquid, crisp and snappy in a chilled asparagus soup. The soup is mildly creamy, with a serious amount of asparagus flavour. The components are good on their own, but the combination somehow amplified a certain vegetal bitter aftertaste in the soup. The chaser of a sweetish Alsatian sparkling wine (a Sylvaner, I think, but could very well be wrong) helped in this light, sweetening and cleaning the palate at the same time.

The savoury ice creams were smooth and delicate but the flavours too subtle. Cauliflower was not easy to detect, while lobster and mushroom, though a little more obvious, still lacked a desirable intensity. The mild sweetness of the ice creams generally complemented each of the flavours, but it clashed with the excessive tanginess of the vinaigrette that generally overwhelmed the mild flavours of the ice creams. This might seem an unusual dish at first glance, but T W Foods is clearly not the first to make them, and the ingredients in ice cream (cream, milk, eggs) are fairly neutral and are often used with lobster, cauliflower or mushrooms in many dishes. May not be as challenging a dish as one might think. In fact, the flavour combinations in essentially all of the dishes I tasted were largely very classic. I certainly wouldn’t characterize most of what I ate as “experimental.”

Pleasant flavour in the lobster bisque. The lobster pieces were generous, but perhaps a touch overcooked. That was easily forgiven, in light of the wonderful whole morels that inhabited the bisque. I wouldn't have minded if the lobster flavour was amped up, but the morels won me over easily.

A coarsely chopped tartare of scallops was mildly sweet, which worked well with sparingly applied salted lemon. The fairly neutral poppyseed that might have given it a bit of additional texture, but otherwise didn't do too much. A nice bit of caviar at the top, not too salty and fairly firm, although it didn’t add much to the scallop. Good but not the best of its kind, imho.

An even foie gras flavour permeated the foie gras crème brulee (although more smokiness would have improved it) and the moussey texture was luxurious. The caramelized surface was of the right thinness, but the caramelization was very uneven, the centre of the dish essentially black. I would have preferred the batons of crisp green apple on top to be cut to finer dimensions – the acidity of the apple would have been better distributed to cut the richness of the foie. This dish should be somewhat familiar to Boston, since Pigalle has served a version of this as an amuse bouche for several years.

My favourite appetizer was the boudin blanc -- tender, with lots of porky flavour, coarsely julienned dandelion greens to contrast the meat with their sharpness and leafy texture. Generous morels, plump and flavourful.

While the main course of sea scallops was perfectly cooked, ripping easily in the mouth, it could use a more substantial crust of saffron and almond, and the impression of saffron was mild. A homey pile of caremelized onion provided sweet enhancement. A lobster stock served as the sauce, essentially a replay of the bisque.

The filet mignon was beautifully ruddy on the inside, a perfect medium rare. Firm meat and without any tough bits. Fairly nice flavour. A dense, smooth piece of sweetbread on the side, and beneath the beef, a base of roasted celery root. The foie gras sauce was more buttery than smokey.

Very good choucroute under slices of honest and flavourful pork. Roasted apple wedges and a subtle grain mustard sauce provided classic accompaniements.

Halibut was cooked unevenly. The centre was fine, slippery and glossy, but the sides were overcooked and tough. Sliced beets and pureed eggplant were reasonable if unspectacular, and the disc of pasty that served as a tartlette was bland, hard and bereft of any lightness.

Very well conditioned cheeses, served properly at room temperature with mixed greens (which could have been dried a bit more after the rinse, they stood in a little puddle).

Well calibrated flavours in the three dessert ice creams: a golden saffron (which met with happy approval from my Persian friend), wood-toned cinnamon and delightfully tuned anise flower.

Poached pear with a smooth texture, mostly sweet with extremely little spice. A cool herbal liquid in its core, supposedly a verbena mousse -- was very mild and muted by the more intense vanilla of crème anglaise. A powdery finish in the crème anglaise, perhaps a thickening agent that was not fully incorporated.

A very suave chocolate mousse, excellent flavour that reasonated with the woodsy single malt syrup (reminded me of a superior whiskey gastrique I had once at Salts) and a vanilla cream that hardly bore any trace of the advertised tobacco flavour (perhaps an idea from the French Laundry). That might have been superfluous anyway, given that the vanilla, chocolate and whiskey worked brilliantly together.

A very small but fairly well edited winelist, with markups that are not outrageous. The Chablis seemed to be pretty good deals. The reserve winelist is tiny (4 wines) -- renowned producers, but not necessarily first tier vintages e.g. a ’98 Ch. Haut Brion, instead of the ’00 (although either might be too young to drink). For big spenders, the Heintz ’01 Californian Cab might be a better deal at this time.

On the whole I was satisfied with the food (my sentiments are very similar to beetlebug’s), and there were a few dishes that I really enjoyed (e.g. the boudin blanc), which makes me wonder if the “simpler” dishes might be the ones to get. There are still several rough spots in a number of dishes (e.g. the halibut). I think the prices are a touch high for the quality of the food – as a rough comparison, the main courses are approximately in the same price range as Salts, but imho the latter exhibits superior technique and execution.

In reference to what was discussed in an earlier thread about this place, I think one would be severely disappointed if one ate at T W Foods expecting 3 star Michelin quality dishes. Across the many dishes we tasted, a few ingredients suffered from overcooking, and some components could have used more concentrated flavour. And I would have liked a bit more balance in some of the dishes (e.g. less acidity against the savoury ice creams, rich vanilla in the crème anglaise vs the verbena filling). I don’t yet see that kind of striking technique and refinement that might give rise to dishes like the artichoke soup at Guy Savoy or the frog leg mousseline at Auberge de L’ill. OTOH, there were a few delicious and uncomplicated dishes that would be very much at home in a Parisian bistrot; that ideal might be a better comparison to make. It shows promise in this regard.

  1. tatamagouche May 26, 2007 03:41 AM

    Good Lord, Limster, did you eat everything on the menu?!
    Fascinating. I look forward to a visit.

    3 Replies
    1. re: tatamagouche
      b
      BJK May 26, 2007 04:51 AM

      Seriously! Was that dinner for four or a 16 course degustation?

      :)
      BK

      1. re: BJK
        limster May 26, 2007 08:47 AM

        There was a just a lot of us, that's all.

      2. re: tatamagouche
        limster May 26, 2007 11:37 AM

        I think we ordered all but 2 appetizers and 2 main courses -- we had a big group. Will be nice to hear what more people think of it. Just adjust the expectations accordingly; make the comparison with Bouchon, not the French Laundry.

      3. Sgt Snackers May 26, 2007 05:54 AM

        Fantastic review - have been waiting to see your take on the place. I think the comparison to Salts is an apt one - just from looking at the menu it seemed like a similar kind of setup. The very fact that you chose to compare to Guy Savoy is a good indicator though.

        1 Reply
        1. re: Sgt Snackers
          limster May 26, 2007 08:57 AM

          I was using Guy Savoy as a benchmark, only because there were a few 3 star michelin comparisons that were made. I think I didn't say it forcefully enough, but there's a huge gulf between TW Foods and Guy Savoy, and I see TWF's food as more of a bistrot level cooking than something as finessed as Guy Savoy. (BTW, it's a comparison to the Guy Savoy in Paris, not the one in Vegas.)

        2. litchick May 26, 2007 06:32 AM

          Thanks for the really thorough and excellent review, Limster -- exactly what I was hoping to know! You're the best! ;)

          2 Replies
          1. re: litchick
            limster May 26, 2007 11:18 AM

            Many thanks for the kinds words; as always, will be important to hear additional opinions as and when they come in.

            1. re: litchick
              c
              chowfamily May 26, 2007 12:33 PM

              Wonderful and helpful review - although it left me with a strong craving for outstanding artichoke soup...

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