Saturday, May 18, 2013

Night Kitchen (Montague Center, Montague, MA) and Berkshire Brewing Company River Ale

****This Restaurant Has Closed****

The Night Kitchen, currently the Town of Montague's only upscale restaurant following the closing of Turners Falls' Ristorante DiPaolo, was a mixed bag for me.  I went with family to celebrate my step-grandmother's 80th birthday, and there were some great moments, and some things that really fell short for me.  They do get extra credit for naming themselves after the Maurice Sendak book In the Night Kitchen; Sendak was one of my favorites as a child, and though I don't specifically recall reading that book, Where the Wild Things Are will forever be on top of my list of great children's books.

As far as ambiance, the restaurant does well; it is located on the bank of a small, as best I can tell unnamed river that runs along Greenfield Rd in Montague Center, and is nicely decorated in a rustic sort of way.  It is not too dark, though the lights definitely dimmed from when I arrived at 7:00pm to when we all departed at 9:00pm, to just on the edge of where I would have thought they were too dark.  The kitchen is visible from the majority of the dining room, something which some people like, though quite honestly, unless I am eating sushi I don't really care about. 

Parsnip, Leek and Potato Soup with arugula oil and smoke paprika
The meal started with some appetizers, including the Parsnip, Potato and Leek Soup for me, and the table sharing the Grilled Flatbread with Green Olives and Broiled Parmesan Polenta.  The soup, served with an "arugula oil & smoked paprika," was nice looking, and the bright green oil was laid out attractively on top of a porridgy looking bowl of moderately creamy, slightly grainy soup.  The graininess is not actually a negative for me, as I feel that it adds some texture to the soup, but I can imagine that other people may not have as positive a reaction to that.  The soup tasted fine, a solid average offering with a strong parsnip flavor, but I did not really taste the leeks at all, which was disappointing, since they are among my favorite vegetables, and the potato was a background note at best.  I've made better myself, but since they don't offer any other soups at this time, it's not a terrible option, though I tend to object to ordering things that I can make as well or better than a restaurant. 

The polenta was flat out disappointing, served in a tiny cast iron "skillet" with garlic mushrooms and mozzarella.  The polenta itself was flavorless, thick and with a cement-like consistency.  I've made better, my mother has made better, and any Italian who ate it would probably take it as a personal insult.  All in all, one of the worst items I have ever had in a fine-dining establishment; stay away.  The flatbread, on the other hand, was spectacular.  With white Spanish anchovies and some gruyere melted on top, it was salty and savory, as well as a tiny bit sweet from some caramelized onions.  This was a great, simple, but elegant appetizer that any restaurant would be proud of, and I am still kind of regretting not grabbing another piece of it.

Entrées were also a mixed result, as I loved my dish, but my step-dad and his mother felt that theirs were served a little cooler than they should be.  In fact, my step-grandmother sent her dish, the Seared Duck Breast, back to be re-warmed.  When it returned, she very much enjoyed it.  My step-dad's Grilled Bistro Steak, which he ordered medium, was on the medium-rare side of that, which was fine with me when I tasted it, and I thought it was both well cooked and tasted great.  My mother had the Grilled Pork Rib Chop, a bone in chop stuffed with black mission figs; it was decent, better than I expected (though I must admit that I expect poor results anytime someone orders a pork chop at a restaurant, as they typically overcook them horribly; it's why I enjoy the pork chops at Hope and Olive so much), but still not as juicy as I'd have liked, though it certainly tasted good. 

My entrée was solid, a Potato Crusted Arctic Char, served with an orange and radish slaw and
Potato Crusted Arctic Char with orange radish slaw and horseradish crème
horseradish crème, with lentils and kale on the side.  The lentils were not particularly interesting, though they were nicely cooked, with just a little al dente bite to them.  The kale was also perfectly cooked, so the leaves were still bright and crisp, with a vinegar-y sauce that had some sweetness to it; it was absolutely delicious, the kind of side that goes well with almost anything, and is a pretty decent argument for those crazy "Eat More Kale" people.  The fish was very good, though not as good as the kale; it was cooked decently well, but not perfect, and the potato crust slipped off it pretty easily while cutting into it.  The fish itself was a little overly flaky (slightly overcooked, but not horribly), and the crust had some nice flavor to it.  All in all, I would label this as a fine, but not wonderful, dish, and next time I would go with the steak or possibly Braised Chicken with Fennel and Capers.

Salted Caramel Pudding
The highlight of the night was, by far, the dessert.  I have expressed several times my dislike for super sweet desserts, but there were three options that drew my eye:  the Warm Maple Almond Bundt Cake with a strawberry rhubarb compote; the Rum Soaked Pineapple Upside Down Cake; and the Salted Caramel Pudding with candied walnuts.  I asked the waiter who came over to take our order what he suggested, and he said the pudding, so that's what I went with.  It was one of the best desserts I have ever had in my entire life, a thick, heavy, sweet and salty pudding with large walnut chunks and some whipped cream on top.  The caramel/salt combination is about as good as it gets, but this was done much, much better than normal, so that the salt was clearly evident in every bite without ever overwhelming the caramel, but also providing enough of a savory note that even when all the components were eaten together the caramel, candied walnuts and whipped cream did not have too much sweetness.  I hate walnuts, and I loved them in this dish; they were perfectly done, just on the edge of becoming soft so that they did not shatter when bitten into, but avoiding that soggy feeling that many candied nuts get.  The whipped cream was even above average, clearly homemade.  I cannot recommend this highly enough.

Service was...interesting.  Our waitress was friendly enough, but a little blah; she did not seem to have any kind of actual personality.  Now, I'm not saying I want wait staff to be super effervescent, but my lord, be more than a soft spoken automaton!  Timidity is a poor trait in a service industry, and I hope it was just that she was new, but she could not even muster much more than a "they're both really good" when I asked if she recommended the Char versus the Trout.  The waiter who took our dessert order was much, much better, a strong personality without overdoing it.  The waitress that my step-grandmother spoke to when she sent back her entrée was similarly good, apologizing profusely and immediately taking the dish back to be re-done, but never seemed to be overwhelmed by anything.  She may have been a manager of some sort, because I don't believe I ever saw her actually taking orders from anyone.

All in all, this was a fine meal, one that was better than anything else you could find in Montague, but not really equal to the food you would find at Hope and Olive or at several places in Northampton, Brattleboro or even Sunderland.  I would go back for two reasons:  one, the deck outside is perfect for a summer date; and two, for that salted caramel.  The prices are not unreasonable, but for the same money, I think you can do better.


With my dinner I had a glass of the Berkshire Brewing Company River Ale, a mediocre, at best, beer that I will never have again.  I am a fan of BBC, with the Lost Sailor IPA, Drayman's Porter, and Steel Rail Pale Ale all personal favorites of mine, but this was just a poor beer.  Their website says it has a "slight" sweetness, but it's really more of a whack you over the head amount of sweet.  It is a high alcohol beer at 7%, and its saving grace is that it does not taste like it has that much booze; that said, I cannot in good conscience recommend this, as it is simply a more expensive, darker version of Bud Light Platinum.  Stay away, and try one of the other three I listed instead.


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