We’re kicking off this blog with a review. Just so that you know, we’ll be writing our reviews separately and without any cribbing off each other! So I’m going first, for the most part because mine is finished. SHE SAID will follow shortly.
For our meal, Blondie and I chose to visit the Scarlet Oak Tavern at Queen Anne’s Corner in Hingham. The building sits proudly overlooking Queen Anne’s Corner at Route 53 and 228. It was originally built in 1766 as a private home for Daniel Whiton. The Queen Anne’s Corner spot has been a tough location for restaurants over the years. The building has changed ownership at least three times since I moved to the South Shore seven years ago. It’s more than possible that in the Scarlet Oak Tavern, we have finally found a restaurant that can anchor the space for many years to come.
We chose not only a very busy Saturday night, but also what felt like the hottest night of the year so far to head over to Hingham. Thankfully, the bar and restaurant were blissfully cool. On the down side there are televisions in the bar area, but they are sufficiently small not to draw attention to themselves. That discreetness of design is evident throughout and according to the website we can thank the owner’s wife for that! My wife noted that the interior has an upscale Pottery Barn feel to it. It’s warm, inviting and yet refreshingly modern. Solid colors, dark woods and of course the New York chophouse-style wooden floors lend a sophisticated air to the place without making the atmosphere overly snooty. I would liken it to one of my favorite London restaurants, Joe Allen, that maintains a quality and an atmosphere that’s second-to-none year after year. It’s the sort of place that you can show up to wearing shorts and a collared shirt or a three piece suit and still fit in.
The wait staff come adorned in swanky black outfits which adds to the crispness and quiet elegance of the place (and dare I say it, “New Yorkness” too). As I mentioned earlier it was a busy Saturday night and the wife and I were in no particular hurry which was a good thing as the service was on the slow side, however it was both discreet (there’s that word again) and very courteous.
I began with the Prince Edward Island mussels, my wife had the Farmhouse Grilled Cheeses. Mussels are one of my “gotta have dishes” by which I compare all restaurants. In fact mussels and french onion soup have become my de facto barometer of meals out around the world. Mussels are hard to mess up but not easy to do really well. These weren’t bad at all, well-cooked and presented with a beautifully herbed garlic bread to soak up the “gravy”. The beer sauce was a little salty for my taste, but not bad. (For those of you who are mussel aficionados by the way, you’d be better off seeking out the simply sublime mussels served up at Uffa! in Portland, Maine or Sintra in Braintree right here on the South Shore.) Neither of us were all that impressed with the Farmhouse Grilled Cheeses. I was hoping for some interesting riffs on classic grilled cheese, or at least some interesting cheddar or blue cheeses, but sadly this dish missed the mark with very bland fare. Too bad because the tomato bisque that accompanied the dish was lovely.
Noting that we were at a restaurant that was clearly proud of its steaks, I plumped for another old favorite of mine, Steak Au Poivre. A classic dish from the 80’s that made me nostalgic for Duran Duran, Crocodile Dundee and the Rubik’s Cube the second it arrived at the table, sauce shimmering, bathed in peppercorns. All steak eaters get a choice of two sides, my choices were garlic mashed potatoes and onion rings but neither was all that inspiring. The mash was a little mealy and the onion rings were fairly ordinary, and missing the all-important smoky onion relish, but the steak was really terrific. A thick-cut sirloin cooked to perfection put a smile back on my face and returned my faith in my ability to at least choose the right dish for dinner.
I am almost always happy with my dinner choices when eating out. It’s seldom that I find myself regretting an order and looking forlornly at my dinner companion wishing I were sitting in their seat and not mine. This Saturday evening I found myself genuinely jealous of my wife’s choice. It was hands down the star of the show. What culinary delicacy could it have been I hear you ask? Surprisingly enough, it was meat loaf. That’s right, meat loaf, just like mom makes, but better (sorry mom!). This particular version was thick-cut, moist, and impeccably spiced. A true joy that for once gave me real food envy.
For those not necessarily wanting to eat in the restaurant, The Scarlet Oak Tavern also has a wood-grill menu and a bar menu graced with some wonderful comfort food dishes including shepherd’s pie, that sensational meat loaf, and a variety of delicious-sounding pizzas – perfect fare when sinking into the cozy leather sofas and chairs spread out around the bar.
My personal pet peeve when dining out is eating at restaurants that charge exorbitant prices for their food based upon their reputations alone. I was concerned that we might be facing something similar here, however, although the steaks at the Scarlet Oak are pretty expensive, they are not unreasonably high compared to Boston for example, and the remainder of the menu is priced extremely fairly. It may not make my top ten favorite restaurants of all time, but the Scarlet Oak Tavern is a wonderful dining experience and a terrific night out. It has a genuinely charming bar area, a warm inviting atmosphere and a friendly staff – and of course meat loaf to die for. It has all the atmosphere of a New York steakhouse but with much better parking and at a fraction of the price.