Sunday, April 5, 2009

Ariadne in Newton, a mixed bag

I had seen the menu for Ariadne Restaurant and Bar, a Greek restaurant in Newtonville, on the Restaurant Week listings and thought the menu was intriguing. So we tried it out last night, with mixed results.

Upon arrival, the parking lot was pretty empty at 7 pm. A little odd for a Saturday night, but we all know the economy is in the stinker. Oddly, they are still on the paper and pen route of taking reservations and organizing tables. It's the first time in a long time that I've been to a nice restaurant that wasn't using OpenTable or something comparable. The lack of a hostess stand also made it hard for us to figure out where to go when we walked in. We stood there awkwardly for a few seconds before the hostess, standing at the opposite end of the bar, came to us. She sat us and lit our candle in the beautiful dining room. While it seemed a little too brightly lit, they dimmed the lights at 8 pm, as if they had forgotten to do it earlier.

I started with the tuna tartare and maine crab appetizer with a cucumber-mango salsa and wonton chips. All things I love. Normally, I love tuna tartare, but I found the texture of the fish a bit gummy. It also was not well cut into chunks -- a few of the pieces looked like a monkey with a screwdriver hacked away at a fish. The crab was fine and the chips were fine, but I also felt that the presentation did not make for easy eating. The small plate was crowded with a couple of useless greens and an overload of wonton chips. The tower was about the diameter of a shot glass and the height of a rocks glass, so the moment I dug in, it toppled over into my wonton chips and fell apart. It would've been much easier to eat and more efficient had it been short and stout rather than tall and thin (that's what she said).

The golden trout with the jasmine rice and edamame was significantly better. The jasmine rice was cooked perfectly, steamed with slivers of garlic, chunks of carrots and edamame beans. The trout was sliced a bit thin, but perfectly seasoned and crispy. One complaint I had was that the house garnish was cilantro covering the plate. I LOVE cilantro. I'm generally a huge fan of it in my food, but in this case, it had been dropped on top haphazardly rather than incorporated into the dish. Unless I ate chunks of the cilantro with the food, the flavors didn't impart at all. Also, my boyfriend's seafood paella also came with the same garnish. I think both dishes could have used the cilantro cooked into the dish or at least chopped in to release the flavors, rather than thrown on as an afterthought. The paella also had no taste of saffron in it -- the tomato sauce overpowered what saffron there was (if there was any) and while delicious, was more of a jambalaya than a paella.

Overall, the service was pleasant. The "ew" moment of the night came when a food runner (thankfully not OUR food runner) was placing food at the table next to us. The man had ordered a flatbread with hummus, and I watched in horror as the food runner put his thumb IN the flatbread, then put the dish down and wiped his thumb on his pants. EW. I know some dishes can be hard to serve without touching. In the case of putting your thumb IN a dish while at the table, the food runner probably should have owned up to it and said, "My apologies, sir, let me get you a new piece of flatbread." After this, my desire for dessert quickly disappeared and we had tea instead. I will say that the tea service was excellent.

The prices on the "neighborhood menu" seemed quite fair, but as for the other menu, not so much. My tuna tartare came off of the main menu and was a whopping $14 for a very small portion. It was not much bigger than the portion I had at Sibling Rivalry during Restaurant Week, and that was Restaurant Week. Given the quality of the fish and the size of the portion, I would not want to pay more than $10 for that. The neighborhood menu prices had apps from $8-10 and entrees in the high teens and seemed to be the much better bargain (both the trout and the paella were $18 on the neighborhood menu).

I won't say I had an awful time at Ariadne, but it also wasn't great overall. While the chef seems to understand classic flavor combinations, the execution needs some work. While I think there is definite promise in this place, as it has great atmosphere, I don't think I will hurry to return anytime soon.

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