I recently finished my master's degree in science journalism, and for my final project, I spent the last several months extensively researching local food for a magazine article. (I'm starting to pitch it to some publications now; I'll post an update here if (when?) it gets published somewhere!) So to celebrate my graduation, my parents brought me to Henrietta's Table, an appropriate choice since the menu relies heavily on local food. I had never been, but I'd heard plenty of good things.
The ambiance is comforting: it feels like you're dining in somebody's sunny New England kitchen. It's a risky look; it comes close to looking like a cheesy big chain breakfast place. But somehow, it really works. While some of its entrees are in the price range of the lower echelon of pretentious Boston restaurants, Henrietta's Table feels completely down to earth (have you seen the stuffed pigs for sale near the entrance?) while still being suitable for a nice night out. Why pigs? Henrietta's Table was named for Charles Hotel owner Dick Friedman's 1000-pound pet pig, Henrietta.
We started with a cheese - I wish I could remember exactly which one it was, but I think it was an aged cheddar. It came with some grapes and apricots, melba toast, and raspberry jam. I've just recently begun appreciating cheese, and I really enjoyed this one. (For most of my life, I've just eaten cheese on pizza, French onion soup, and Kraft mac and cheese - it had to be Kraft - but I've been branching out a lot over the last couple years!) We also got some delicious mussels with chorizo to start. Even my mom, who had never had mussels and was grossed out by the thought of them, tried them out and loved them.
Until I really started researching - and eating - local foods, I always found New England food to be on the bland side, generally opting for spicy Asian foods. Sure, I'd have some good old baked schrod now and then, but in general, I've tended towards cuisines I thought to be more flavorful. Lately, though, I've been adding seasonally available fruits and vegetables to my diet in a major way (like fiddleheads, for example), and I've started to appreciate the fresh flavors of locally grown, seasonally appropriate produce. My parents tend to choose simple foods without many exotic ingredients. Henrietta's Table provided a good middle ground for us: I explored my new-found tastes for interesting local ingredients, and there were plenty of creative surprises on the menu, but the meals were still accessible to my parents, who prefer to know exactly what they're eating. Most of the items on Henrietta's Table's menu are classic New England dishes - crab cakes, pot roast, and such - but prepared with high quality ingredients that bring the dishes up to a new level of New England cuisine.
Mom got the Giannone Farms Herb-Crusted Rotisserie Roasted Chicken with a side of asparagus and Dad got the duck: House Maple Smoked and Grilled Free Range Duck Breast, Confit Leg, Native Cranberry Chutney, Port Wine Reduction. The chicken and duck were juicy, flavorful, and well portioned (large, but not disgustingly so). Joel got the lamb (Barbeque Ale Braised Elysian Field Farm's Pulled Lamb Shank, Local Wilted Greens, Native Beans, Crispy Nitrate Free Smoked Bacon), which I looked at envyingly the whole time. It had been my second choice. I ventured onto the daily specials menu and ordered tautog, drawn mainly by the accompanying fiddleheads. (I just can't get enough!) I had never had tautog before. It's a flaky white fish - somewhat similar to haddock but a bit drier and heavier. It came topped with a pumpkin seed and green olive crust, which actually worked pretty well, despite the fact that I'm not very enthusiastic about pumpkin seeds or green olives. It was a little bit salty and a little bit sweet. Some small pieces of bacon (and of course, the fiddleheads) came with the fish, and everything was swimming in a light and tasty lobster broth.
No time for dessert - we headed upstairs to Regattabar for a show! (Not to worry; we got dessert there!) We saw Obbini Tumbao, a ten-piece Afro-Cuban band with the most spectacular percussion section I've heard in awhile. Timbales player Anita Quinto performed with such intensity that she broke the end of a drumstick, turned the stick around, and jumped right back in - in perfect rhythm, of course. According to their MySpace, they're Boston-based and make regular appearances at Regattabar and Ryles, so I'd definitely recommend catching them if you get a chance. You won't be able to stop dancing.
The Charles Hotel really has something good going on. From Henrietta's Table to Regattabar to Rialto, there are plenty of great options. There's also an interesting looking bar downstairs called Noir; I haven't been there yet. And now that it's warm out, you can also eat and drink at the outdoor Legal Sea Foods bar. Lots of fun options!
I'll definitely return to Henrietta's Table. It has solid food and fresh ingredients, and it's not quite as prohibitively expensive as other area restaurants that feature local food.