Contentment on the menu
5 Corners Kitchen leaves diners satisfied with its delicious bistro fare
The post-dinner recap can be an enjoyable digestif. Leaning back lazily, plates barely cleared, food lovers are already analyzing the dishes they just ate. Usually, the verdict is mixed. It’s rare that the conversation goes like this: “Huh. Everything was good.’’ “Yeah, everything was really good.’’ “I liked some things better, but there wasn’t anything I didn’t like.’’ Contented silence. Zero snarky comments. What’s wrong with these food lovers?
This transcript comes to you courtesy of 5 Corners Kitchen, producing appealing and delicious fare in Marblehead since May. Not every visit here is as all-around enjoyable as the one discussed above. But any restaurant capable of offering a meal of total satisfaction, from start to finish, deserves plaudits. Here they are.
Chef-owner Barry Edelman has worked at Lumiere, Aquitaine, and — briefly — Bistro du Midi in Boston, and his dishes bear evidence of that French background. Whole-grain mustard enlivens lentils that are served with a house-made smoked sausage link, garlicky and crisp-skinned and rich. It’s hearty yet refined, good country cooking. This appetizer is something you could happily eat for supper once a week this fall, with a side of salad greens dressed simply in sherry vinaigrette and a glass of red. Just about every bottle on the list of largely French and New World wines is also available by glass, half-carafe, and carafe, a most considerate policy.
Mussels are served as a bourride, the Provencal fish stew. Fresh, plump, and briny, they share a bowl with roasted tomatoes, fennel, and leeks. The requisite aioli is slathered on garlic toast, a luscious accompaniment that spreads slowly into the broth as you dunk.
A salad of mixed lettuces comes with haricots verts, roasted shallots, almonds, fines herbes, and optional warm chevre. It’s simple but special, and the almonds lend a bit of toasty warmth. A pot of pork rillettes is served traditionally, with cornichons and more of that mustard; unfortunately, the rillettes aren’t as flavorful as they might be.
Sauteed skate comes over silky pommes puree and haricots verts with capers, cornichons, and lemon brown butter. And the menu features the best steak frites I’ve had in a long while. Slices of chewy, medium rare hanger steak with a flavorful grilled crust, a beef jus made tangy with mustard and creme fraiche, watercress, and perfect pommes frites, golden and salty.
But despite all the cornichons and haricots, this is not a French restaurant. The menu divides along similar lines as the wine list. (The beer list, too — it’s essentially half Belgian-style, half American, with a couple of curveballs thrown in. The restaurant just got a full liquor license, so cocktails are in flux.) A pork chop marinated in chilies, garlic, and herbs is all New World, tender and juicy meat edged in a dark red, spicy rub. It’s served with Spanish romesco sauce, a blend of ancho chilies, fried bread, and almonds, as well as escarole and roasted potatoes. But what makes the dish brilliant is the inclusion of preserved lemon. That sunny Mediterranean flavor and the chili on the pork play off each other perfectly.
Preparations rotate with the seasons, reflecting what ingredients are available locally. Bluefish might come with mushrooms glazed in soy, radishes, greens, and a miso vinaigrette. A roasted half-chicken sits atop butternut squash puree, with chanterelles, kale, and bacon; its flavor is good, but the texture of the dark meat is slightly rubbery. Salmon, however, is cooked perfectly and served with beets, endive, hazelnuts, and fines herbes vinaigrette. It’s clean, balanced, and elegant.
Most of Edelman’s cooking is. He prepares food with an even hand. He doesn’t pile on components, nor does he hold back. He uses butter and salt happily, but not gratuitously. There is enough richness, but not too much. These dishes aren’t over the top. They are satisfying.
Service also comes in just the right amount. Knowledgeable and attentive, the servers have personality, but not too much: Dinner is still all about you, not them.
Dessert could be a little more, however. The simplicity of the offerings feels right here, and a creme brulee is well executed, with a crackling top and fine custard. But a tarte tatin has the taste and texture of apple butter, and the pastry is somewhat tough. Chocolate coffee mousse is a bit dull. These sweets are adequate, but they don’t live up to what came before. (I regret not ordering the cheese plate, three rotating selections accompanied by ambrosial-sounding Lillet-poached apricots.)
The name 5 Corners Kitchen is taken from the major intersection at which it’s located. It’s a soothing and comfortable space, painted in beige with clean white wainscoting, a cozy bar area, banquettes stocked with plenty of fat cushions, and overhead shimmering chandelier shades cut in light, lacy patterns. The decibel level shatters this visual serenity. This doesn’t look like it would be a loud restaurant, but it is.
It’s not the only way that Edelman, himself a Marblehead resident, is making noise with his first restaurant. Midweek, the little bistro is busier than many city restaurants. On weekends, it’s swarmed. Eating here, it’s easy to see why — bite after satisfying bite.
Devra First can be reached at email@example.com.