Restaurant with huge accolades lives up to the hype

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Drifter’s Wife opened last year to immediate, and almost exclusively jubilant praise. A wine bar in the Maine and Loire wine shop on Washington Ave., the concept stuck me as interesting, if a little confusing at first. I held off on a visit as the list of restaurants I must go to occasionally becomes unmanageable and even some of the best get put off until later. Add to that a menu which changes daily and doesn’t always have something that piques my interest or my wife’s.

With my main squeeze out of town on business again, it was a little easier to make sure the menu options suited only my tastes instead of having to conform to both of ours. I took a quick peek online as the daily offerings are always posted sometime around when they open. It looked like there would be enough to satisfy my hunger without having to go too far out of my comfort zone, so I headed over with high expectations and knew I had arrived when I saw a large sign which read “WINE” overhead.

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Upon entering, I was greeted by one of the owners who was waiting on another customer. Once he was done taking their order, he approached me and approved my request to sit at the small bar. As I sat, the bartender, also with other customers, physically acknowledged me, and moments later provided water and offered drinks and food. I told him I was going to be ordering both and he obliged with the relatively extensive drink menu which focused on vino and the short food list.

I was looking for a wine along the lines of my beloved shiraz. The four reds they offered were a little lighter than that, but the bartender recommended the S. Bellotti “Semplicemente”. I tried a sip and found, as the bartender had suggested, that the Italian grape joy juice was a little more floral than I was used to for a red. I still found it enjoyable though and decided to stick with a glass of that.

Even though I had definite thoughts about what I wanted for food based upon my online search, I had the bartender review the menu with me and then took a minute or two to make my final decisions. I actually did change my mind and ended up with Night Moves Sourdough – butter, sea salt; Savoy Cabbage – willoughby, bread crumbs; and Cod – fingerlings, king trumpet mushrooms, whelk butter.

The food came out as it was ready, starting with the bread. Made by a local, one-person operation, the slightly dark loaf was porous inside and crusty on the exterior. My four slices were accompanied by sea salted butter. I tried a bite, thinking that the $6 order of bread better be good for something many restaurants offer as complimentary. Indeed it was. Simple, yet pleasing in both taste and texture, it was a little different than anything I’d had, at least recently. I enjoyed it, and there was plenty to consume.

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About half way through the bread, my cabbage arrived. It was topped by the soft Willoughby cheese, caramelized onions, and very fine crumbs. It was also lightly doused in a vinaigrette. I sliced a bite and was thrilled. I love cabbage, but this was cabbage bursting out of it’s crunchy shell. The soft veg and cheese combined quite well, but the vinaigrette made it all so much better giving the dish the aura of a salad while still maintaining the sensation of cabbage and cheese simplicity.

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Once my cabbage was done, I went back and finished my sourdough. Then it took a few before I was presented with the cod. That was okay, because I was moving quickly through my meal and not in a huge rush. When I did receive the fish, it was topped with the whelk butter and partially hiding the taters and shrooms underneath.

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My first bite of cod proved to be a winner. It was perfectly cooked- seared on the outside and easily flaked. The slightly salty, buttery fish was excellent. With a bit of the whelk butter, it was even better. Whelk refers to various types of marine mollusks/snails and the butter made with them reinforced the theme of the dish. The mushrooms and potatoes also benefited from it’s outstanding flavor.

The more I ate, the more I liked it, realizing that while I don’t always swoon over cod, this was certainly the best I ever had and I did love it. The main course was not too heavy, leaving room for me to continue fitting in my clothes, even if I didn’t have space for dessert. I wrapped it up, finishing everything I had. I considered checking out the wine shop, but figured I’d do that on my next visit.

After tip, my tab came to $67. My meal wasn’t cheap, so I probably couldn’t afford to go there on a regular basis, but next time I do, I’ll be sure to bring  other people and take my time. Drifter’s Wife lived up to the hype. Chef Ben Jackson works the small kitchen next to the bar with deft and precision and the food clearly reflects that. Perfectly prepared, fresh food and plenty of wine is what you’ll find there and with a new menu every day, he’s challenged to come up with clever culinary interpretations to keep things interesting. And he does it very well.

Stay hungry.

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