Punch Drunk Love
Sophisticated fare and craft cocktails at David Punch’s Newton bistro
If you could eat at only one restaurant for the rest of your life, chances are it’d have to be both reliably comforting and innovative enough to circumvent boredom. It’d be food that hinted at familiarity, but transported you somewhere more exotic, both geographically and imaginatively. The same criteria apply to your go-to restaurant: the neighborhood spot where you find yourself eating more than any other, the place you’d recommend without hesitation to visitors, friends and acquaintances alike. Sycamore, opened by chef/owner David Punch, formerly of Ten Tables Cambridge, is such a place. Its location in Newton is a boon to suburbanites who’ve, up until recently, had to drive to Cambridge and Boston for their fine-dining fix.
Comparable to Central Square’s Rendezvous, Sycamore’s bistro cuisine is inflected with a Mediterranean sensibility. In its best dishes, confident use of spices like chili, harissa, za’atar and ingredients like preserved Meyer lemons and chorizo elevate the menu from its more generic New American peers. If there’s one signature dish that’s not to be missed, however, it’s the duck board ($60, for two). The presentation varies, and on my visit, the meaty Hudson Valley duck underwent four different treatments: cured and thinly sliced into meltingly tender pastrami, ground and formed into a juicy sausage, roasted with skin and thickly sliced, and confited until crisped and fatty like carnitas. Accompanying the generously portioned duck were pomegranate-sprinkled grains, earthy lentils with herbs and nuts, and slightly sweet coleslaw, all of which underscored Sycamore’s exalted rustic fare. The other poultry offering, a za’atar-spiced Giannone chicken ($23), was also a standout. Dry-brined a day in advance, the flavorful chicken was crisp, perfectly seasoned and complemented by a colorful vegetable medley of kohlrabi, celery root, turnips and rapini.
The “daube de boeuf à la gasconne” ($26) was likewise well-executed. The hearty square of meat was saturated with a demi-glace that imparted savoriness to the sweet puréed parsnips. A Spanish seafood cassoulet ($24) pleased with its fish sausage, house-made chorizo (order anything on the menu that contains this) and littlenecks, but could’ve used more than a scant amount of navy beans to round out the mix. The pot pie ($21) had a lovely, flavorful pastry crust, but the mushrooms and root vegetables were suspended in a rather bland sauce. While the under-seasoned pot pie might’ve been an anomaly, the stale, cold bread served at every table was a consistent occurrence that never ceased to perplex, considering the quality of everything that followed. Vegetarians will have a tough time with the menu, as the pot pie is the only main option. Even the garlic soup ($11) has jamón, although carnivores might find it could use even more of the salty ham.
Desserts maintained the bar generally set by the previous courses. Especially noteworthy were the pillowy beignets ($8), perfectly fried from edge to edge, tossed with cardamom sugar and served with a candy-sweet milk jam. Craft cocktails ($9–$11) were consistent with the best programs in Boston and Cambridge. The Good Buddy ($10) lived up to its name with a citrusy blend of bourbon, Dolin Blanc and Campari that pairs well with the Mediterranean-inspired menu.
Newtonians might not need to venture toward the Charles River anymore for a delicious night out. But is Sycamore good enough that it warrants a commute to the ’burbs for spoilt Cantabrigians and Bostonians? Is anything worth taking the D Line during rush hour? For that duck board, absolutely.
Hours: Sun.-Thu., 5-10 pm; Fri.-Sat., 5-10:30 pm.
Credit Cards: Yes
Handicapped Accessible: Yes
Parking: Street and public lot
• Duck board
• Za'atar-spiced chicken
• Daube de boeuf
755 Beacon St., Newton | 617-244-4445 | sycamorenewton.com