The Sardine Room
The romance of the bar
by Lee Lawrence
For romance, we choose the bar. Perched side-by-side, we can chat with our neighbors or bartenders, or turn toward each other in an intimate proximity that's hard to duplicate across a table. Too, sharing a meal--literally, trading bits off each other's plate--is easy when seated abreast. And if the menu includes a list of oysters--to us, the finest culinary aphrodisiac--romance can't help but flourish.
During this month of pink hearts and red roses, my husband and I will be drawing up bar stools at the Sardine Room in Plymouth. New last year from the Yaquinto family group that includes the neighboring Fiamma Grille and Compari's, the Sardine Room faces Plymouth's charming town square. The bar--dispensing both seafood and drinks--and an open kitchen line one long wall of the narrow space. Opposite sit a few booths and a lengthy banquette, with tables of various heights dotting the center and front. Decorated with stylish contemporary finishes, the room is sophisticated and fun yet comfortable--though when filled, which is often, rather crowded and loud, making two side-by-side bar seats even more desirable.
We like to begin with a martini or glass of white wine and a selection of iced oysters. The Sardine Room usually has six or seven different varieties representing both the East and West coasts. If we don't recognize the names, we ask for the plumpest, briniest ones, those tasting most of the sea. The oysters have always been fresh and delicious, and we try to savor them slowly and not slurp them down in unrestrained gluttony. But they certainly whet our appetites, especially during happy hour, when a variety selected by the house can be had for $1 each. At happy hour, we'll continue with other specials--hand-cut fries with aioli and an order of porchetta sliders make a decadently satisfying duo.
If it's later, and we're looking for a full dinner, many items beckon from a large, wide-ranging menu. Divided into raw bar, snacks, small and large plates, soups,
salads, and sides, it manages to offer typical, comfort, trendy, bistro, and wild innovation all on one page, with a few specials thrown in. Despite the size and variety, much of what we've tasted has pleased us, and even after several visits, much remains to tempt us.
So what have we sampled? From the raw bar, besides the oysters, we've indulged in the steak tartare--pristine, hand-chopped beef wonderfully seasoned with Parmesan and olive oil and topped with a raw quail egg. Of the snacks, a sweetbread canape was neither as flavorful nor as soft and yielding as we might have hoped, but a foie gras crepe, decorated with crispy chicken skin and pear mostarda-bacon vinaigrette, surprised us with its divergent flavors and textures. Next time, we'll try their namesake, Portuguese sardines with brown butter and capers.
Moving on to the small plates, linguine with chorizo, clams, and black garlic was tasty if not exceptional, but pan-roasted sea bass resting on green lentils and turnips was exceptionally tasty. So many more small plates entice--scallops with pork belly confit, gnocchi with arugula, frog legs, a rabbit dumpling--that to sample them all we may have to forsake the bar and assemble a group of friends in the dining room.
We did manage to dip seriously into the soups, salads, and sides, treated from this kitchen as substantial additions to the meal. The six-oyster stew didn't glow the way the fresh mollusks had. However, a Broccolini salad combined the vegetable with roasted mushrooms, prosciutto, and burrata cheese to wonderful effect, and a frisee option garnished with fried oysters, an over-easy egg, and smoked pork jowl was equally delicious. Despite soppressatta and pumpernickel croutons, the chopped salad paled in comparison. Although I've never tasted the original, a side of Brussels sprouts "Momofuku style"--with sriracha, bacon, and lime--must do that New York restaurant group proud.
With all these interesting options, we barely made it to the short list of large plates, though we did enjoy a commendably ample lobster roll and a really excellent version of fried fish--day-boat cod floating in a light and crispy crust--both served with the traditional trimmings of fries and slaw, wonderfully done. Untried options include a wagyu sirloin steak, Berkshire pork chop, braised turkey leg, and, of course, a burger.
Our two consistent disappointments were the limited wine list and the desserts--mostly because the few sweets offered didn't live up to the savories. A Danish cheesecake--layers of dense chocolate cake interspersed with cheesecake--tasted like a frozen confection from a commercial bakery. Mint creme brulee was fine, but on another plate, tough, dry maple-glazed cheddar donuts negated creamy bacon-flecked ice cream and a demitasse of hot cider.
Next time we'll skip dessert and order another round of oysters. For some of us, the oyster's seductive power bests even chocolate's undeniable allure.
The Sardine Room
340 S. Main St., Plymouth
Sun. brunch 10 a.m.-3 p.m., dinner 4-9 p.m. Mon.-Sat. dinner 4-? p.m. (closing times vary--call to check).
Raw bar and snacks, $2.25-$30; soups, salads, and sides, $4-$14; small plates, $8-$16; large plates, $12-$21
[Originally published in February, 2013.]