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Tost of the town

Poujol is on his game

Release Date: 2010-06-02

It’s really tempting, but I’d never actually do it. Give an unwarranted bad review, that is, just to be able to call it a rost of Tost. Or to say Tost doesn’t have a gost of a chance … when, in fact, there are some things of which Tost can truly bost.

One of them is not necessarily the concept, however. We don’t know what happened a while back when Jean Francois Poujol was contemplating changing the format of Soleil Bistro & Wine Bar. For a time, he flirted with a French-Asian fusion concept. That it didn’t make is probably a blessing; that kind of thing is risky in our fair city. I’m not sure we needed another iteration of Popular Contemporary Cuisine, either, but that’s what we got.

Steamed mussels are becoming nearly as obligatory on menus all over town as are calamari, and yet I always fall for them. Tost takes them in a semi-Spanish direction with chorizo and white beans, and they almost make it: lots of mussels, sufficient beans, not enough chorizo … and a serious lack of salt. I’d also suggest a whiff of smoked Spanish paprika.

Pork belly hasn’t reached the ubiquity of calamari, but just you wait. In the meantime, come try it here. It’s fatty and meltingly tender, and reasonably well served by at least some of the plate’s other parts. I don’t know what Swiss chard “hearts” are, but more of them would be good; their sweet-sour component is great against the lush belly. I’m not sure what the candied nuts add, either, but the bedding of parsnip purée has potential; my only complaint here is that it wants to be more parsnippy and a little less creamy to provide some textural contrast.

The mussels can also be had as an entrée, and here they are in the company of crispy-skin salmon, poached crispy-skin chicken breast, pan-roasted marinated pork chops, a burger, and a lonely fettuccine Alfredo — among some, but not a lot, of other dishes. The wine list isn’t long, either, but it did supply us with a fairly priced ($32) Rívola Sardon de Duero from Abadia Retuerta.

The wine, softly scented with berries and black cherry, was beautiful with another currently fashionable entrée, short ribs — here braised in Shiner Bock beer. We appreciated the ribs’ fall-from-the-bone tenderness and their caramel-like richness. The house-pickled radishes and cucumber served alongside were brilliant counterpoints. And the simple mashed potato foundation was just what was needed — sturdy enough and the flavors weren’t too tricky.

If I’m a sucker for mussels, I’m equally enamored of lamb, especially seared rack of lamb, and Tost’s kitchen does it beautifully. The advertised cumin in the tomato emulsion came across in spades, but better that than wimpy. Braised chickpeas? Sure, bring ’em on. But there was that parsnip purée again. Again, the texture was wrong. Try to think of all the above atop a loose and creamy purée. See what I mean? (Good flavors, though.)

Service was pleasant and competent, it should be noted. Thank you, Michael. And the evening costed to an end with a couple of quite good desserts. The lemon panna cotta might have been unusually dense, but its subtle flavor was right on, and the accompanying shortbread cookie was worth the price of admission alone. Yes, I had hoped for a little more peanut butter in the chocolate and PB tart, having had fantasies of an upscale Reese’s Cup (they’re a secret passion). But Dining Companion told me to cool it, and the crust was exceptionally good …

And then the music leapt to life in the very adjacent lounge. If it’s not how you had expected to finish out your evening, discussing the sorry state of world affairs in a darkened dining room, then, well, just saying … or maybe just take the discussion to the bar. They make a mean Lemon Drop with agave nectar and a very good French 75. •


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