A pub with the right touch
The Biltmore bills itself as a gastropub, meaning a bar that offers interesting food, too. In fact, the menu here is terrific. The Newton Upper Falls restaurant, which has been in existence in one form or another since 1921, reopened about seven months ago.
With its dark mahogany bar, replica lighting, and pressed-tin ceiling, the Biltmore's bar area is handsome. About 40 people can fit into this room, which has three TVs and can get pretty lively,m and quite noisy, on game nights; another 35 seats are in a more sedate second room.
Rebecca Roth co-owns the Biltmore with a silent partner. The kitchen is run by Seth Morrison, whom Roth knows from Perdix, where he was cooking and she was pastry chef. Before Perdix, Morrison worked at East Coast Grill. There are interesting tastes and textures on plates: a homemade pickle, a smoky grilled vegetable, a little sauce. Morrison makes pickles from cucumbers, zucchini, and onions; he likes potato salad creamy, slaw crunchy, coatings crisp.
A corn chowder ($4) is packed with cubes of potatoes, golden kernels, and milk. Ale-steamed mussels ($9) have a slightly buttery, ethereal sauce; the dish is garnished with grilled toast from B&R Artisan Bread. The bakery also makes the chewy little rolls that come with pats of butter wrapped in gold foil. On the appetizer menu, "baked ricotta bread" ($6) begins with thick bread slices covered with pesto and fresh ricotta, which is light and warm, topped with roasted, marinated tomatoes.
Roth is a schmoozer, walking around the dining room, chatting up customers. At one point, she whips out cleaner to scrub tables after customers leave. "I'm a little OCD," she tells our party. But the team is also compulsive about fresh ingredients. On the phone, Roth says that produce comes from A. Russo and Sons, meat from John Dewar & Co., fish from Captain Marden's Seafoods -- some of the best suppliers in town. Here's how seriously this team takes its food: Morrison shells and peels fava beans for succotash with slightly sweet slow-roasted pork shoulder.
Cod in fish and chips (a bargain at $14) is a big hunk of fish, golden and crisp in its coating, white and moist when flaked. It comes with a sea of fries, the house slaw, homemade tartar sauce, and a handful of delightfully vinegary cucumber pickle slices. Burgers, too ($10), are generous and juicy. Order the crisp, outstanding sweet-potato fries with it, some of the very few things not made in-house.
Half-roasted chicken under a brick ($16) comes with milky steamed corn, grilled zucchini wedge, pickles, and slaw. This platter has everything, in just the right proportions.
Morrison is very good at this balance of textures, as you can see in the grilled pound cake with blueberries ($4), in which a slice of rich cake has been browned on a griddle, then flooded with fresh blues cooked in a light syrup, served with a spoonful of real whipped cream.
It's a dead-easy dessert -- yet exciting. We're spooning up heaps of it when Red Sox first baseman Kevin Youkilis hits a home run with two men on base. The entire bar chants "Yooouk, Yooouk, Yooouk."
The new pub has settled nicely into the old neighborhood.