Blackstone's on the Square
Mid-range chic, with a side of scene
by Stephen Heuser
Blackstone's on the Square is both chichi and bland, like a
scaled-down cross between Mistral and the South End Grill. If those names don't
mean anything to you, then you're probably not one
of the 200 people per night eating at Blackstone's on the Square.
Blackstone's on the Square |
1525 Washington Street (South End), Boston
Open daily, 5:30-11 p.m..
AE,DC, Disc,MC, Visa
Smoking at bar
Blackstone Square (the park) is a very New Yorky-looking bit of the South End,
a huge flat block of grass and trees ringed by a wrought-iron fence; you can
see it across West Brookline Street through the restaurant's tall plate-glass
windows. Blackstone's (the restaurant) occupies the first floor of a pretty,
renovated stone building, very late-'90s South End. The lot next door is an
asphalt basketball court with graffiti on the wall; between that and the
restaurant, you've got the story of a neighborhood.
From the outside, Blackstone's is almost cockily understated. It doesn't even
have a sign -- you have to get close enough to read the lettering on the glass
of the front door. Inside, it's all buzz, which I didn't quite expect -- I
hadn't heard much about the place through the usual channels, and I was kind of
surprised that a restaurant this successful hadn't generated more publicity. I
can only assume that Blackstone's has so exactly pegged its clientele -- boys
who live in the South End, mainly -- that it doesn't need to worry about that
One clear reason for Blackstone's popularity is that it's not nearly as
expensive as it feels. Normally when you walk into a restaurant and see
ceilings this high and haircuts this expensive and the telltale small bar in
front displaying 14 kinds of call vodka, you just know you're about to
pay 20 bucks for a piece of salmon. At Blackstone's, you're paying $15, and the
hosts are accommodating to boot. They squeezed us into an achingly full room
last Monday; two nights later they let us expand our reservation from two
people to three to -- once my Australian writer friend actually showed up --
four. My Australian writer friend is serious about food, and she found a lot to
be wrong with certain dishes at Blackstone's, but nothing sucked, and I think
it's pretty fab that in 1999, the Year of the Nosebleed Entrée Price, at
least somebody is bothering to run a restaurant where you can dress up,
be seen, and not max out your Visa in the process.
Blackstone's is done in a kind of Gothic Lite motif, with a stained-glass
window mounted between bar and dining room and booths built to look like sleek
filigreed pews. Once you start to look too closely, the seams show; there's
unfinished wood around that stained-glass window, and the light fixtures, upon
inspection, are just slightly cheesy. A similar thing can be said for the food,
all of which is a cut more interesting than bar-and-grill food, but not much of
which is the sort of thing that would drag hard-core foodies away from Tremont
Fittingly for summer in New England, there's a lot of seafood on the menu. I
think my favorite dish was a wonderful thing called "smoked salmon brandade"
($7), a generous pâté of salmon mashed with potato. You spread the
stuff like fluffy lox on the two wedges of flatbread, or scoop it up with rolls
from the breadbasket. The color scheme alone was worth the price: a pink scoop
of salmon, deeper-pink pickled onions, and green watercress around the edge.
There was a sort of picnicky feel to some of the appetizers: one was slices of
early-ripening tomato with a "cool green sauce" of basil and avocado and
cucumber ($6); another was a paper bag of fried clams with a chipotle-spiced
tartar sauce. At eight bucks, the clams were the most expensive appetizer, but
that's about what you pay for a clam roll at Woodman's -- and trust me, these
clams were better, plump and crispy. A prosciutto plate ($7) was heavy on the
prosciutto, light on the promised melon-radish salsa (a ramekin of the salsa
would have been nice), but it still had the right idea.
Pizza did not have the right idea. The two we had ($10 for tomato-mozzarella,
$12 for crab and smoked corn) seemed not so much mis-cooked as misconstrued.
Instead of a crisp-crust pizza with lively, fresh little toppings, these were
inert crusts with a flat, homogenized top layer, like a gourmet version of Mama
Celeste. 'Nuff said.
As at a lot of mid-range restaurants, the entrées were a little less
playful, a little less lively, and overall not as much fun as the appetizers.
The peppered white flesh of a Chilean sea bass ($15) lay on a pile of couscous,
white on beige, the fish nicely cooked but plain. Spongy potato gnocchi ($9)
soaked up an undersalted creamy tomato sauce, with slices of tomato and
zucchini in the mix. Prime rib ($16), done about a step rarer than we'd ordered
it, was attractively crosshatched by the grill and served over wilted greens.
The entrée that pushed my button was an Asian-spiced pork tenderloin
($14), in which one of those excellent, carefully farmed hunks of pork was
spice-rubbed, grilled, and sliced into delicately thin medallions. (Pork, I
think, is just better than it used to be.) The medallions lay over a
surprisingly good salad of cold barley, pepper, and cucumber that was bound
together with a sweet soy dressing.
The dessert to order is the strawberry shortcake ($5), in which a warm nubbly
scone-like biscuit is split and filled to overflowing with fresh quartered
berries and cream. Crème brûlée ($6) didn't taste bad, but
the texture was denser and eggier than it ought to have been; a peach-blueberry
tart ($6) was a perfectly good slice of pie.
One other nice thing about Blackstone's: the wine isn't predatorily
expensive. Aside from a short list of higher-end wines, bottles are in the
$20-$30 range and glasses are $4 to $6, which is the kind of price that makes
dinner a lot more affordable.
Blackstone's is a high-capacity room without any sound insulation, and
things do get loud, especially since the place is a bit of a scene. During
dinner one night, mutual-fund genius Peter Lynch showed up and sat down at the
table behind us. At most upscale restaurants I can think of, Lynch -- one of
the financial world's few genuine celebrities -- would probably be asked
for an autograph. Here, with his family in tow and that electric hat of white
hair, he just seemed very straight and middle-aged, and he didn't attract much
attention at all. Maybe that's why he likes the place.
Stephen Heuser can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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