1019 Great Plain Ave., Needham
Hours: Dinner: Tuesday-Thursday 5:30-10 p.m., Friday-Saturday 5:30-10:30 p.m.
Breakfast: Monday-Friday 7:30-11 a.m.
Lunch: Monday-Friday 11 a.m.-3 p.m.
Brunch: Saturday-Sunday 9 a.m.-2 p.m.
Major credit cards accepted
Vicki Lee Boyajian, Needham's premier purveyor of gourmet pastries, sandwiches, and desserts, is no longer just a daytime bakery-cafe but a primo spot for an upscale dinner. The place takes on the look of a trendy bistro at night, with white table linens, soft lighting, fresh flowers, and candles on the tables. Lovely, pastel, acrylic-on-canvas artwork hangs on the adobe-colored walls, and soft jazzy-blues music plays in the background. We were seated at a window table, but there's nothing particularly interesting to look at on Great Plain Avenue. We focused instead on our menus and the lovely trio of breads in our basket. Our favorite was a sweet, chewy bread, studded with cranberries and crunchy pecans.
The menu features straightforward renditions of seafood, chicken, and beef dishes, salads, a few appetizers, and changing specials. While the food showcases the chef's creativity, there's nothing too eclectic on the menu, which is a refreshing change. There's a niche for more places where you don't require a culinary degree to decipher the menu.
For appetizers, we chose the grilled oregano shrimp over bruschetta ($7) and a Caesar salad ($7). The greens in the Caesar were fresh enough, but the salad was on the dry side, and the dressing unremarkable. The shrimp appetizer was right on. Six succulent shrimp were arranged on grilled bread with diced tomatos and a swirl of herbed basil sauce.
For entrees, we would recommend the grilled lemon-basil chicken ($16). The poultry was lightly seared, juicy inside, and perched atop garlic mashed potates and firm, grilled asparagus. The duck entree ($20) featured medallions of breast meat bathed in a raspberry reduction, accompanied by golden Yukon potatoes and a colorful medley of crunchy carrots and snap peas. On both visits, the veggies with our entrees looked as lovely as they tasted, vibrant in color, slightly glazed, and not overcooked.
Knowing Boyajian's reputation for delectable desserts, we wanted one but had no room. We opted instead for a cappucino ($2.50), which was creamy and frothy, just enough after a heavy meal.
Our server was very congenial on both visits. He happily checked with the kitchen if he was unsure about a question. Our only complaint was not with the service but with the lipstick stain left on my glass by a previous customer.
Our second visit was on a very warm evening, and the air conditioning had trouble keeping up with the heat outside and from the kitchen. The sweet bread basket we enjoyed before was replaced with a boring basket of toasted bread slices and a red pepper relish spread. Our server told us the breads change daily.
The crispy Maryland crab cakes ($7) were two good-sized, plump cakes, served over a bed of greens with a side of remoulade. This appetizer could easily have worked as an entree -- a lighter alternative on a steamy night.
For the main course, we ordered the beef tenderloin and a halibut special. The tenderloin ($24), which was ordered medium, arrived very rare, so it was sent back to the kitchen. It was returned medium-well but still fork-tender and flavorful, thanks to the savory peppercorn sauce. The halibut ($20) would please even the most fastidious seafood lover. The pan-seared fish was lightly breaded, flaky, and moist and served over a bed of orzo, complemented by a tangy, tomato-based sauce.
Beer and wine are available by the bottle and glass. The selection is limited but reasonably priced, averaging $5-$6 per glass.
Desserts include vanilla bean creme brulee with mini amaretti cookies ($6) and homemade peach cobbler ($6). We shared a decadent tiramisu ($7). Instead of the usual sliced cake, this cool, dreamy concoction was served layered in a large wine glass and topped with densely rich, rolled chocolate logs dusted with cocoa.
Despite a few minor kinks in the kitchen, Vicki Lee's has lots of potential.