I am a firm believer in the restorative value of food. I am aware that not everyone shares this perspective.
Once a year I travel with colleagues to an out of town conference for four to five nights. Our days are jam-packed, and we are “on” for at least twelve hours straight, beginning as early as 6:00 am. I scope out restaurants wherever we go, and look forward to group bonding along with some good food. The first night there is usually great enthusiasm for restaurant-going. I inevitably lead a large group to a restaurant in some remote area of town, because I’m so single-minded about the food that I forget to consider distance or accessibility. But once meeting fatigue sets in (usually on day two), most people succumb to exhaustion and choose to dine in the hotel. Ugh.
For our fourth and final night at a conference in Boston, I make reservations at TW Food. My companions will include one fellow foodie, and three others who exhibit varying degrees of willingness to explore unfamiliar fare. By mid-afternoon our energy is depleted, and there is a movement afoot to extinguish our plans. I reluctantly call to cancel, only to find that the restaurant’s policy is to charge a $25 per person fee for cancelling after 2:00 pm the same day. There is no turning back. By the end of the evening, we will all be grateful for this policy.
TW Food is in Cambridge, but it is not the Cambridge I am expecting. The neighborhood is primarily residential, and is a fairly substantial cab ride from where we are staying in South Boston. The farther from the hotel we get, the more my anxiety level increases. Have I led my tired group astray?
As soon as we enter the charming restaurant, our fatigue begins to melt away. (The rest vanishes with our first sips of bubbly, part of a delectable wine pairing for each of the three courses). The intimate setting is soothing and somehow invigorating at the same time.
As noted on the website, TW Food “presents a modern ‘cuisine classique’ without the limitations of preconceived flavor combination or construct.” Chef Tim Wiechmann’s food is French- inspired and intriguing. One of my co-workers is having difficulty with the menu. She has made a lifelong pledge not to eat anything from an animal that she considers “cute.” This eliminates main courses that feature rabbit and duck. She also draws the line at tongue and sweetbreads. I hold my breath until she identifies dishes that meet her criteria, which includes a wild mushroom crepe and lobster and heirloom squash bisque for her main course.
We are still feeling a bit languid, until a profiterole amuse bouche filled with goat cheese sorbet awakens our senses. Not everyone in the group is equally amused, depending on their affinity for goat cheese, but there is unanimity about the creativity.
I can’t take my eyes off the crème brûlée foie gras, despite the fact that I generally find foie gras too rich. But I can only imagine that the crème brûlée will greatly enhance the strong flavor. I must follow my gut on this one, particularly after a glowing recommendation from our server. The foie gras is whipped into a creamy mousse, and the caramelized sugar and thin slices of apple on top make this a heavenly dish. It’s still too rich for me to finish, but I love every bite that I can manage.
For a main course, I have Peachwood smoked duck breast with roasted figs, duck confit, curry-lime corncake, and chocolate jus. I don’t think I could concoct a list of ingredients that appeals to me more. The smoky tender duck and the not-too-sweet chocolate jus would be satisfying on their own. The other elements elevate the dish to something truly special. The dish surpasses my lofty expectations. Sometimes fatigue makes you more emotional, but I think this dish would bring tears to my eyes regardless.
My initially skittish companions are having their own moments with bone-in skate wing with cumin-glazed carrots, potatoes, hazelnut, and champagne sabayon as well as the lobster and heirloom squash bisque, filled with chunks of sweet lobster.
I find dessert choices at TW Food challenging, as most include nuts. Now it’s my turn for trepidation, as this is my “draw-the-line” ingredient. I settle on Scotch and Cigars, which is nut free. It is also a great name for what is beignets with macallan 12-year scotch syrup, tobacco ice cream, and valrhona chocolate ganache. Tobacco ice cream is off-putting at best, but our server has a way of tempting me with his descriptions. Not everyone would be allured by a dessert steeped in tobacco leaves, which results in a back-of-the-mouth burn. But my fellow foodie and I go for it. The beignets are good, but the tobacco ice cream is truly memorable. I taste honey more than tobacco, but sure enough there is a slow burn in the back of my throat. I am resisting the urge to write that this ice cream is smoking hot!
TW Food has a three course prix fixe menu at $55 per person. Given the exceptional quality of the meal, it’s an undeniable value.
I never doubt that a great meal can be an elixir for restoring energy, but I’m not always successful in convincing others of a restaurant’s power and potential. Thanks to TW Food for helping me convey the message, by melting away our collective exhaustion and replacing it with a sense of exhilaration.
The 38 Essential Boston restaurants, July 2013
TW Food, 377 Walden Street, West Cambridge, MA