I don't have regular access to a car, and I live in Cambridge, where there are plenty of great restaurants. Yet in the past month or so, I've already gone to the area twice, both times to visit a new restaurant called La Brasa.
I love the concept of La Brasa, founded by Chef Frank McClellen (L'Espalier) and Chef Daniel Bojorquez (L'Espalier, Sel de la Terre). The restaurant is anchored by a HUGE roaring wood-fired oven and grill right at the center of an open kitchen.
It's especially fun to sit at one of the counter seats where you can watch all the action.
Pictured above, Chef Daniel Bojorquez on the left and Chef de Cuisine Daniel Amighi on the right (two Chef Dans!).
I was thrilled to see Chef Dan Amighi at the restaurant. I had originally met Chef Dan at Bondir in the early days (almost 5 years ago!), when it was just him and Jason Bond cramped in that tiny kitchen at Bondir executing some incredible food. It was so exciting for me to hear that he was now chef de cuisine at La Brasa.
Anyway, I digress.
The space is huge, with tall ceilings and an industrial feel. There are long wooden benches that take up a large part of the dining area. You can also sit along the long bar.
The menu is small but very manageable. It consists mostly of small plates, with a few larger portions thrown in there. There are Snacks, Bread + Spreads, Small, Veg/Gran, Main, and a few large format For the Table dishes. I came with a party of four and we were able to order a large chunk of the menu, which was super fun.
The cocktails are fun. I did not get one myself, but my dining companions assured me that they were quite tasty.
Bread + Spreads
La Brasa charges $4 for bread and it's totally worth it. The bread is a sourdough loaf that they bake in-house. It's huge, has a complex sour taste, and is just overall phenomenal. At the end of the meal, at least one diner commented that the bread may have been his favorite course of the evening.
You can get ash butter for an additonal $1, which is excellent.
Otherwise, there are other fun spreads you can try, like lentil hummus ($4),
the ricotta ($2), which is also served with ash,
or the Chicken Liver Mousse ($4), along with several other choices. It's definitely fun to share a loaf of bread and order a couple fun spreads as a way to start the meal.
The Snacks section of the menu includes smaller bites and range in price anywhere from $2 for a pickled beet egg to $18 for the cheese board.
We tried the Fluke + Tomato ($15), which was really good. It reminded me a bit of ceviche, with chunks of raw fluke tossed in a tart vinagrette with chopped onions, herbs, and sweet cherry tomato slices.
The Beet Pickled Eggs ($2 each) were strikingly beautiful to look at and also tasty, though I could have used just a bit more salt.
Red Onion & Mussels ($8) was delicious, with charred leeks, red onions, and flavorful mussels.
Though vegetables are present all throughout the menu, the Veg/Grain section features them front and center.
I love wood-fired vegetables, and this version "Bok Choi" ($15), was delicious. It was like a grilled salad. Charred full-length stalks of bok choy, sliced in half, came served with "raz vin", a red wine vinaigrette, and sesame seeds. I liked how the tartness of the vinaigrette offset the rich, smoky bok choy.
Eggplant, barley, hibiscus ($14), wood-firedeggplant, was deeply smoky, creamy, and also very good.
The Small section of the menu includes dishes that are just a bit larger than those in the Snack section. They range in price from $9 to $11 and are great to share.
That day, we ordered their Octopus Special, which came with perfectly cooked (not too rubbery!) octopus, purple potatoes, red onions, and lots of parsley.
It's no surprise that the tacos are good, considering that Chef Daniel Bojorquez is Mexican. Tacos de Carnitas ($10) consisted of two hearty tacos filled with tender braised pork, salsa verde, and chili de arbol. The fresh, pickled salsa did a great job of cutting the richness of meat, creating the perfect balance.
Romaine, Corn, Avocado, Sunflower ($11) was a dish I could not resist. I love all those ingredients, and they always taste so great together. I was not disappointed. The lettuce was refreshingly crispy, the corn was sweet, and the dish had generous amounts of sunflower seeds. Everything was tied together with a flavorful, creamy avocado dressing. All in all, it was very good.
Chicken Wings + Mole ($9) gives another nod to Chef Bojorquez's Mexican background. The fried chicken itself was gorgeously fried, nice and crispy without being greasy at all.
Hock Fried Rice ($12) was highly recommended to us by a friend who had visited earlier. The rice is bold and flavorful, both tart and savory at the same time (are you starting to see a theme?).
The main dishes always include at least a few seafood options, chicken, and beef, all costing around $25.
Whole Roasted Mackerel, served over a bed of roasted potatoes, was a special that day. The mackerel was rich, fatty, and savory, and the texture of the flesh was silky.
Bavette Steak ($25) was cooked a beautiful medium rare, and came with different colored beans tossed in a black vinegar sauce. The dish was balanced, with elements of both sweet and salty.
For the Table
Finally, the For the Table section features larger portions that are meant to be shared. The menu changes based on what's available (e.g., once we saw awhole roasted rabbit for $100!), although there are certain items that are always on there (e.g., rib roast shown below).
Everytime we have gone, there has been a Rib Roast Cart Service ($4/oz). They roll over a cart to your table and ask you how thick of a slice you want.
They weigh it, and then you pay for how much you've purchased.
The meat is cooked very perfectly (see how pink and rare that is!) and it's properly seasoned and overall quite enjoyable. Bryan still prefers the steaks we make at home (which are more finely marbled), but this is still very, very good, and you can't beat that smoky char!
Affogato, a shot of George Howell espresso poured over caramel ice cream, was solid. I personally prefer affogatos that highlight the contrast between a simple vanilla ice cream and a deep, dark roast coffee. Here, the George Howell coffee was brighter and the caramel ice cream was "darker". Thus, there was less of a contrast. But really, I'm being nitpicky. It's hard to go too wrong when you put ice cream and coffee together, and this was still tasty.
The Flan was very dense and creamy and came with a side of whipped cream topped with ash. I personally prefer a much lighter, silkier flan, but people who enjoy thicky, creamy flans will like this one. It's definitely got a lot of egg yolk in there!
My favorite "dessert" was actually a Burnt Caramel Cappuccino, which tastes as good as it sounds.
All in all, the food here is very, very good. If you like wood-fire grilled anything, whether it be grilled meat or charred vegetables, you will love this place. Some might argue that many of the dishes rely on a similar concept: charred umami + tart combination. It works well, but it's true that many of the dishes have that similar taste profile. One diner commented that it was a bit "mono-dimensional."
Personally, I think char grilled meat and vegetables taste great when balanced with pickled or tart elements, so I didn't mind as much. However, it is something to keep in mind.
The last time we were there, they had started switching to their late night menu right around 10PM. The Late Night Menu consists of a simple Margherita pizza made in that wood-fired oven (of course!), cacio e pepe pasta, Bistecca alla Fiorentina (steak), and a Caesar Salad. It ends at 1AM. It looked good, though we did not have room to try it.
I'm a huge fan of the restaurant, which is why I have been willing to make the trek out here from Cambridge twice in one month. That's saying some, considering Cambridge has its own fair share of excellent restaurants. There's something about the warm, cozy environment (maybe it's that roaring fire plus wooden benches?), the simple yet boldly flavored dishes, and the small plate concept that just keeps me coming back for more.
La Brasa Somerville