Burger. Roast chicken. Fried calamari. Beet salad. These dishes are your faithful friends. You like them, really, you do. But you see an awful lot of them on area menus. Sometimes, well, admit it. They start to grate on you. They're so predictable! They always demand the same condiments, the same sides. Is it so wrong if you'd like to spend just one meal in different company?
Like quinoa croquettes. Not only are you not sick of them, you've never even seen them on a menu before. You can find them at Vee Vee, that rare restaurant that doesn't closely resemble several other restaurants in town.
For one thing, there's hardly any red meat here; the menu emphasizes seafood, vegetables, and grains, many of the ingredients local. But there's no tofu either. That would be too obvious. Vee Vee casually subverts the dominant Boston restaurant paradigm without going all Moosewood on you.
Its relative healthiness doesn't come wrapped in an aura of self-congratulation. It doesn't feel like a mission, it just feels like the kind of food owners Dan and Kristen Valachovic (the two Vees) want to serve. They call it a "New American bistro," an allusion, Dan Valachovic says, to the local American food that's the couple's focus. At any rate, it's the kind of place where you can chase your quinoa with one of more than 15 craft beers. That's new for Boston, if not, say, Seattle.
Vee Vee opened in February and was just hitting its stride when its original chef left; Seth Morrison, formerly of the Biltmore and Perdix, stepped in in April. The Jamaica Plain restaurant is small, with warm orange walls, slate blue accents, and a dollhouse-scaled bar in the middle of the room. (The space used to be the tearoom Cha Fahn.)
Happily, Morrison kept the shrimp and scallop cakes from the previous menu; they're one of Vee Vee's best offerings. The seafood patties are sweet and saline and lightly fried, with an addictive springy texture reminiscent of Asian fish paste. They're served with chipotle aioli.
Another excellent dish is the watermelon and feta salad. The melon is juicy and lush and not too sweet, as the vinaigrette offsets its sugar. It's accompanied by mint, basil, and edible flowers, plus cucumbers, red onion slivers, and a light sprinkling of feta. It's light, refreshing, and satisfying, the flavors balanced.
Those quinoa croquettes are pleasant although verging on bland, creamy on the inside and crunchy on the outside. On the side is a pool of something white and slightly oniony that tastes a bit like tartar sauce but, according to the menu, is minted yogurt. The croquettes are served with curried zucchini pickles, grapes, and red onions. It's a random assemblage, but the pickles are nice and spicy. (Someone in the kitchen knows his or her way around a pickle; they appear in many dishes. Vee Vee should jar them and sell them.) And vegetarians must be excited to have something they can eat that's not pasta; in fact, there's no vegetarian pasta on the menu, just spaghetti with tuna meatballs. This is good if you like spaghetti and meatballs: The pasta and red sauce are pretty straightforward. However, the garlic-laden meatballs don't taste much like tuna. They're a bit heavy on the bread. If you'd told me they were turkey, I might have accepted that. Though the dish is perfectly tasty, it gets monotonous halfway through.
On rare occasions, Vee Vee ventures into the world of beef, and a hanger steak special one night is a worthy foray. The grass-fed beef is from Boyden Farm in Vermont, and it's just the right amount of chewy. It's served with crisp-skinned fingerling potatoes, little chunks of marinated mushrooms, and fresh peas. The peas have a bit too much mint on them - all that's really needed here is butter, salt, and pepper - but it's a harmonious combination of ingredients.
That's more than can be said for an entree of bread salad served with "creamless" corn and curried peaches. It sounds so crazy it just might work! But it doesn't - the parts don't go together, though they're all fine unto themselves. The bread salad is made up of giant cubes of bread, giant tomato chunks, cherry tomatoes, cucumbers, and red onions. It's pleasantly spicy, although a little more finesse with the knife work would add visual appeal. Still, so far the dish makes sense. It doesn't really need the side of corn, made creamy with its own milk rather than dairy, but it's fine; the kernels are a summery note in the background. The curried peaches aren't background food. They are great - crunchy rather than mushy, and spicy with curry. They're a little weird and a lot compelling, and they'd be an awesome accompaniment for, say, pork. But with the Italianate bread salad and the corn, they're quite strange. Points for creativity, though.
Yet for every watermelon and feta salad or shrimp and scallop cake at Vee Vee, there is a disappointing deviled egg (heavy, tasteless filling unattractively piped back into the white) or fried green tomato (impossible to taste beneath the thick breading, though it is served with excellent corn relish). For dessert, banana cream pie tastes great, its Oreo crust topped with banana cream, banana slices, and a little whipped cream, with caramel drizzles crosshatching the plate. But the cream is grainy. Vee Vee's menu is a welcome departure from the same old, same old, as is the lightness of its food. Still, some dishes need refining.
Beverages, however, are consistently excellent. The always welcome Allagash White from Portland, Maine, is among the choices on tap, and there are seven Belgian brews available. The wine list includes many inexpensive bottles and organic or biodynamic choices. Dan Valachovic used to be bar manager at Zon's, and Kristen Valachovic always had good wine recommendations when she worked at Sorellina, so this comes as no surprise.
Vee Vee is open for brunch on Sundays, and even the coffee is good. The house-made lobster sausage is worth getting out of bed for - so light it's almost fluffy, full of fresh fennel and seafood flavor.
At brunch and dinner both, the place is full of JP residents who greet one another from their respective tables. Vee Vee is a great little neighborhood spot, unpretentious and laid-back, just right when you want a beer - hold the burger.
Devra First can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.