Visiting a brand-new indie restaurant can generate a frisson of anticipation: Will it be good, possibly exciting, maybe even amazing? The stakes feel higher when first-time operators are involved: You’re hoping for their success, but you know how unforgiving the business can be—even to veteran restaurateurs. They did a Kickstarter? Hoo-boy, that means a short runway. So it’s a relief to discover that Field & Vine—a new farm-to-table restaurant in Somerville’s Union Square from a pair of novice, crowdfunded owners—is mostly stupendous.
Their room is small, spare and handsomely modest with copious plants and rustic, reclaimed-wood decor that evoke old barns and winter woods. There are about 30 seats at tables, another seven at the dining counter surrounding the open kitchen, whence heavenly aromas waft from a wood-fired grill. It’s a charming, enticing tableau from the first step inside.
The menu from chef/co-owner Andrew Brady treads familiar tropes—shareable plates, local farms and fisheries, sustainable sourcing—yet manages to deliver consistently delicious, occasionally transporting food, starting with a brilliant basket of focaccia ($5) with spreads like a fantastic housemade butter and lemon-garlic tahini spread. Local raw oysters ($3 each), Sippicans from Marion and Beach Points from Barnstable one night, are impeccable. A ceviche of the delectable, underused local fish tautog ($11) brings novel chunky texture and tart/hot accents of sumac and purplish isot pepper for spooning onto vivid paprika crackers. Yellowfin tuna crudo ($14) shows similar fine knife-work, finds the Goldilocks crudo-temperature zone, and boasts vibrant accents of green apple, fresh jalapeño and teeny ebony nigella seeds. This is a great small raw bar.
Vegetable dishes are routinely wondrous enough that certain vegetarians may consider this an occasion spot. Multicolored grilled beets ($13) punched up with copious basil feature insistent wood-smoke flavor plus a hint of acid from roasted pears atop a chewy base of mild halloumi. Delicata squash ($12), sliced and gently roasted, feels rich enough to serve as an entree, with its dottings of ricotta, grilled scallions, halved hazelnuts and the tart spice hit of preserved-lemon za’atar. Parsley and radicchio salad ($12) is a model of gorgeous restraint: exemplary greens, big pignoli, chunks of superb, mild French feta, the whap of lemon and garlic, and lots of chewy lardons of long-cured, crisply rendered bacon. Crispy potatoes ($8) have the advertised crunch and interesting accents of celery and pickled peppers, but one wishes for a less faint flavor of tuna or anchovies in its lemony tonnato. Raw, vertically sliced radishes ($13) take a spin away from French breakfast by subbing creamy, sherry-spiked chicken liver pâté for butter: brilliant.
Animal proteins offer similarly unfussy preparations that yield emphatic flavors, like skewers of ginger/garlic-marinated, wood-grilled chicken thighs ($15)—maybe the best souvlaki in town—as well as a generous pile of littleneck clams ($16) in a simple broth with knotty, crunchy croutons. There’s a whiff of Southeast Asia in a slab of hake steamed in turmeric leaves ($16) in another fine, lambent broth. Duck confit salad ($17) takes a crescent-shaped pile of greens subtly dressed in black walnut vinaigrette and layers them atop a sensationally rich, delicate duck confit, plus earthy lentils du puy and a few grapes for crisp sweetness. Smoked sausage ($17) of beef and pork tops a humble casserole of heirloom beans and charred cabbage, but its smoky, savory, fatty flavors somehow add up to something greater. If there’s a minor bust here, it’s a gorgeous hand-cut beef tartare ($14) that promises fierce Vietnamese accents of nuoc cham and fried shallots, but mutes them by blending nuoc cham into an aioli and overdressing the beef with it, delivering disappointingly mild results.
Even the unassuming desserts hide depths, like the lavender accent in the chocolate pot de crème ($8) and the crème anglaise in place of the milk in milk and cookies ($6) of chocolate chip, lemon shortbread and (fabulous) spicy chocolate chili. The beverage program features a few amari and aperitifs like Uncouth Butternut Squash vermouth ($12), a non-annoying way to get more pumpkin flavor into your drinking, and a short, nerdy list of northeastern-U.S. beers ($4-$14). Wines are mostly Old World (notably French) and quite fairly priced. Nine by-the-glass options ($11-$14) and a 36-deep bottle list ($35-$87, most under $55) feature many fascinating, unusual choices. One memorable bottle was a 2013 Laurent Cazottes Marcottes Braucol ($48), a striking braucol/duras blend from southwestern France with soft tannins and a heady, raisiny aroma akin to dried currants. This modest, idiosyncratic list, with its emphasis on sustainable, often biodynamic wines, serves as an apt foil to the kitchen’s unpretentious yet frequently surprising food. Credit co-owner/general manager Sara Markey, who also exemplifies the front-of-house service ethos: bubbly and enthusiastic, with an unstudied Somervillian informality.
It can be easy nowadays to feel a certain cynicism about farm-to-table, when even McDonald’s has built a campaign on it, and wariness about risking one’s hard-earned dining dollars on a pair of newcomers whose business was built on a few pop-ups and some catering experience. Field & Vine demonstrates why one should occasionally suppress those darker thoughts. Sometimes a shopworn concept, when executed with refinement, earnestness about sourcing, and a big dollop of workmanlike humility, can yield truly lovely, memorable results. ◆
Yellowfin tuna crudo
Parsley and radicchio salad
Hake steamed in turmeric leaves
Duck confit salad
Field & Vine, 9 Sanborn Court, Somerville (617-718-2333) fieldandvinesomerville.com; Hours: Tue.-Thu., 5-10 pm, Fri.—Sat., 5-10:30 pm; Liquor: Beer, wine and cordials; Reservations: Yes: Parking: Nearby metered street spaces