Walden Street floats in unremarkable limbo somewhere between Harvard’s and Fresh Pond’s respective square and roundabout. I managed to discover the street in the autumn of 2007 checking out Tim Wiechmann’s newly opened T.W. Food, and immediately returned for a second confirming fix of Wiechmann’s brilliant and individually styled french country cuisine. Because it was easy to sidestep the outpost called Walden Street, skipping T.W. Food for a few years has proven to be a simple, but regrettable, oversight. A recent return featured eight foot snow mountains capably masking visual memories of the neighborhood, and an immensely satisfying wine and food experience conjuring just enough self chastising sentiment to prevent another lengthy T.W. Food hiatus.
I happily remembered the Walden Street gem this time around, only recently missing their Wines of Jura event in a last minute schedule change and curious how the poised, inspired, and young sommelier that I have come to know around town, Jillian Marini, was adding to the formula. The wine list has always been contained, short and well selected, but primarily driven by an inspired pairing vision. It might just be my perception, but the regular wine list and the reserve list seem to have more range now and is eclectically organized to provide enough region and style choice without ever veering too far from their food friendly missions. Lopez de Heredia, DRC, Baumard, Andrew Will, and Domaine Serene are just some examples of the range of regional choice and pairing compliance.
Three words describe our meal; satisfying, creative, and exciting. Totally consistent with my earlier visits, Wiechmann leads a small kitchen that produces his vision of french country fare. Every course was on point and exciting, combining a traditionally honed understanding of the correct preparations with a signature twist. From a sampling of charcuterie (the Grand Charcuterie starter is simply too big for one person to consider eating anything else but desert in one evening, yet possibly worth the sacrifice) featuring rillettes to lardo, to spaghettini with crispy stuffed pig foot pistachio zampone and white anchovy, and then to the main course of black perigord truffle omelette with warm radicchio and endive salad, brown butter chestnuts, and wild mushrooms, each and every mouthful was energizing.
My dining companions’ Berkshire pig tart with sweet and sour cabbage, braised shoulder and pig skin sausage, lentils and mustard jus was magic, filling, and heart warming on this sub zero New England evening. And, the Sicilian Rigatoni was lively from pickled peaches and preserved green tomatoes, a great take on this style of southern Italian saucing. Desserts compete with the savory menu for top billing, and also include the twisted signature interpretations that turn traditional into inventive. A headline example is “Scotch and Cigars” a fried beignet, tobacco ice cream that makes you feel like you are sucking on a fat Dominican stogie, chocolate ganache, and Macallan 12 year old single malt scotch syrup. It sounds contrived, but it is legitimate and as serious as you would expect from France’s top pastry chefs. The “chocolate budino” is mysteriously addictive featuring Italian dark chocolate custard and candied hazelnuts, olive oil, and sea salt. The oil and salt force repeated fork fulls that work against all measures of responsible caloric sensibility.
We chose (**** $23) Francois Chidaine’s 2008 Les Argiles; Chenin Blanc from Vouvray. My unfolding exploration and education of the Loire has uncovered tremendous Chidaine crafted still and sparkling wines from Montlouis, a town just across the river and in the shadow of the better known Vouvray. So I was interested to try this Chidaine from Vouvray and it ended up a smart choice at $45 on this list; a mouthful of minerals and crisp citrus, and a nose of grapefruit and hard white peach, laced with superb acidity. I can not drink enough of this wine.
Staying put in the Loire, I picked the (*** $35) 2004 Domaine de Nerleux Les Loups Noir from Saumur-Champigny which listed at $72 on the reserve list. The 14% alcohol Cab Franc was satisfying with a nose full of garrigue, truffle, and spice. It comes with a remarkably silky attack, and black cherry and cocoa flavor notes. It’s a really great foil to the range of savory flavors that show up on T.W. Food’s tables and is immensely satisfying.
There is a soothing calm that permeates the dining room, and it perfectly integrates the focused kitchen energy that is never more than one hundred feet from any table. The kitchen, tight and tiny, gives me thoughts of Santa’s workshop which I can never imagine physically scaling to the size of the global audience of children it serves. This symphony of casual calm and serious cooking produces a dining drama that is nothing less than gripping to anyone cast in its production; in the kitchen or the dining room. I can not believe I have ignored T.W. Food for so long since its opening and recommend you don’t let another weekend or visit to Boston fill up with the South End and Back Bay usuals without booking an evening at Tim Wiechmann’s culinary workshop.
T.W. Food—377 Walden Street, Cambridge MA 02138—617.864.4745