Monday May 21, 2007

Blue on Highland
A Musical Heritage, But No One Is Singing the Blues Here

Richard L. Cravatts writer

What is the formula for a successful suburban restaurant these days? Experience suggests one should combine refined, eclectic cuisine, an attractive setting, and an energetic and imaginative kitchen staff. It should be elegant enough for an evening out with friends, but also a welcoming place for a family dinner. Throw into the mix the convenience of easy parking and lower-than-Boston prices, and the suburban diners should come flocking.
It’s a lot to cook up, but Dover residents Rod and Catherine Walkey have tried to create this recipe with much culinary success with Blue on Highland. This newcomer to Needham’s eclectic, ever-growing culinary scene has gotten off to an auspicious start. They and a handful of other owners (including Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler) opened Blue in August. Located on Highland Avenue in the space previously occupied by a drug store, Blue on Highland has a lush setting with comfortably-spaced tables and intimate banquettes for some 120 diners. The interior, decorated by Catherine Walkey, has ochre-toned blown glass lamps over the bar, contemporary panels of art on the walls, and huge floor-to-ceiling windows which, when opened in the warm weather, provide patrons with the feeling of dining in an outdoor cafe.
Chef Peter Tartsinis, Johnson and Wales University-trained and former executive chef at Papa Razzi, has designed a sleek, appealing menu, creating unexpected, upscale contemporary American comfort food. It is possible to “graze” here, sampling perhaps some decadent parmesan fries, a salad of arugula with a goat cheese croquette, a crisp little pizza of figs and goat cheese, or angel hair pasta with lightly-sautéed vegetables in a garlic cream sauce. For those opting for a full meal, there are options of seafood, poultry, chops, and beef on the menu of French, American, and Italian-inspired selections.
Several offbeat and enticing cocktails help set the mood for culinary indulgences ahead: the eponymous Blue cocktail is silky with icy vodka, pineapple, blue curaçao and champagne; a white chocolate espresso martini blends white chocolate liqueur and espresso with the vodka; and the limoncello martini, gin and grapefruit juice with limoncello, a lemon rind-infused liqueur originally from Sorrento, packs a citrus kick. The wine list offers, in addition to domestic choices, selections from France, New Zealand, Chile and Italy, and a number of beers are available as well.
In addition to the seductive Parmesan Fries ($6), an appetizer that ends once and for all any preconceptions about the ordinariness of French fries, served as they are here with a truffle-chive dipping sauce, dinner can start with plump Steamed Mussels ($11) in a garlic-laden white wine and fresh tomato sauce served with a convenient grilled baguette which makes an edible spoon for the rich sauce. The Sesame-Crusted Tuna ($12), as is now de rigueur, comes to the table rare in glistening little slices bordered with toasty sesame seeds, along with a sesame-soy vinaigrette. The marinade of the Chicken Satay ($9), grilled and skewered bits of chicken, echoes Thai-inspired ingredients of coriander, cumin, turmeric, and lemongrass, and is served along with a traditional cucumber salad tossed in vinegar, a dash of sugar, and fresh red chilies.
Salad choices include the ubiquitous Caesar Salad ($8); a dressed-up Spinach Salad ($9) with smoked bacon, grapes, blue cheese, and almonds; or the Goat Cheese Salad, a “croquette” of nearly molten goat cheese—egg-dipped, rolled in panko crumbs, and sautéed gently before finding itself atop an arugula and roasted beet salad ($11). Diners may opt to add to any salad choice either grilled shrimp (add $6), rare sesame tuna (add $6), or grilled chicken (add $4).
A light dinner can include a pasta course, such as the Lobster Ravioli ($18), airy pillows stuffed with fresh lobster, tomato, and asparagus, served in a pool of white wine sauce. Four pizza choices are always on the menu as well, including what may be the perfect combination of toppings in a rendition inspired by Figs Restaurant’s own classic: the Fig and Arugula Pizza ($10). Combining the sensual texture and sweetness of plump figs, the salty and dense goat cheese, and touches of garlic, parmesan, and olive oil, the end product is a very grown-up and satisfying take on pizza.
The dinner entrees include seven regular menu items, ranging in complexity and price from the prodigious half-pound Burger with Cheddar ($10; $11 with bacon) to the Filet Mignon ($26), served draped in a cabernet shallot butter, along with roasted potatoes and asparagus.
Steak Frites ($26), popular bistro fare, is a homey presentation of sliced hanger steak served with garlic-spiked green beans, hand-cut French fries, and a velvety, intensely flavorful red wine demi-glace. The Roasted Half Duck ($24) glistens with a pomegranate glaze, and is served with feather-light pumpkin-filled gnocchi and spinach. The generous piece of Grilled Salmon ($19) is finished with basil pesto and served along with a creamy lemon saffron aioli, a silken, béarnaise-like sauce made from egg yolks, oil, saffron, and lemon juice. Comfort food in the form of the pleasant Roasted Chicken with a thyme jus ($18) or satisfying Grilled Double Cut Pork Chops with a five-spice demi-glace ($20) round off the dinner entrees.
For children who have come along but want something not as grown up for their meal, Blue is happy to provide simpler fare: chicken fingers, grilled chicken with broccoli, grilled cheese, macaroni and cheese, or pasta with butter or tomato sauce ($7, including beverage and dessert).
Daily lunch, as well as Sunday Brunch, are available at Blue, with all of the appetizers, salads, and pizzas from the dinner menu available during the day, along with a selection of sandwiches not available in the evenings. The brunch menu also offers some weekend-appropriate selections such as Smoked Salmon with honeydew melon and goat cheese, Egg-rich Challah French Toast with strawberries, Lobster and Asparagus Frittata, classic Eggs Benedict, or a Mushroom and Spinach Omelet.
As you linger in Blue and begin to envision this as your future neighborhood hangout, the alluring option of dessert presents itself, and the kitchen is more than ready to lengthen your stay. Two standouts are: the Chocolate Lava Cake, everyone’s dream concoction for a chocolate dessert—warm dense cake with a molten center that oozes lusciously when you put a fork to it, paired with raspberry and chocolate sauces; and the Cranberry Apricot Bread Pudding, custard-soaked bread studded with flecks of sweet and tart fruit and draped in ice cream and caramel sauce. Desserts are all seven dollars.
Votives flickering in the cobalt glass holders on each table. The soft lighting. Perhaps it’s time for another Blue cocktail.




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