Let’s begin with the alluring smoked almonds ($5), a bowl that tastes as if someone has drenched the nuts in bacon fat, except they’re not greasy, just smoky in the most pleasing way — and warm. They’ve actually been smoked over cherry wood, then sauteed in olive oil with rosemary, and roasted to order. It’s hard to get your fill. Then comes luxuriously whipped baccala ($5), also warm, the classic spread of salt cod soaked to rid it of salt and then beaten with potatoes and olive oil. This exceptional version has a little cream and comes with crunchy toasts.
SPOKE WINE BAR
It’s hard not to love Spoke Wine Bar, the three-month-old Davis Square spot. Spoke is owned by Felisha Foster, former wine buyer for Dave’s Fresh Pasta, which it neighbors, and the chef is John daSilva, former executive sous chef of No. 9 Park.
Foster was made for this business. The person at the door of this Somerville wine bar is genuinely cordial and helpful (in a no-reservation 40-seat room, things can get touchy); servers are well informed and so available that if you look up, they scurry over to acknowledge you. And the food is beautifully made in small portions meant to be shared. To that end, the menu has a few vegetable dishes, a few seafood and meat dishes, some cured meats, a trio or quintet of cheeses, spreads, snacks, two desserts, and many interesting wines by the glass. That means that $4 here and $10 there for a snack or sip can add up.
Quirky pours by the glass include a delightful Gorrondona Txakolina from the Basque region of Spain, the cold, refreshing Italian red sparkler Lambrusco Rosso, and a French Cour-Cheverny (from the eastern end of the Loire Valley, you might be expecting sauvignon, but this cheery sip is made with romorantin grapes).
A few tables down, restaurateurs Ana Sortun and Barbara Lynch are dining with designer Cheryl Katz (C & J Katz Studio has done work for both chefs) and photographer Susie Cushner (whose credits include Sortun’s book, “Spice”).
Foster says that Spoke is supposed to be “a modern speakeasy, a place for community to come together and sit back.” On the menu you’ll find “Bespoke Food and Drink,” which seems slightly pretentious until you get your food and realize that every single element was, in fact, made to order. For whipped goat’s milk ricotta ($4), the kitchen has made the ricotta and a divine bright red tomato jam that tops it, sprinkled with Aleppo peppers and sesame seeds.
Faintly smoky charred eggplant ($4) is slightly sweet with currants, scented with cinnamon, and a nicer color than you’ll ever find in pureed eggplant due to a little cocoa powder.
Garganelli ($20), are thin ridged pieces of pasta (they’re made on a gnocchi paddle), served with lamb ragu and ricotta salata, and perhaps the best dish on the menu. Vegetable crudites ($12) are indeed uncooked, and you might find carrots in many colors, asparagus, and pea greens, all procured from the Davis Square farmers’ market, and served with honey butter, bagna cauda (a dipping sauce based on olive oil typically served warm; this one barely is), and a beautiful Green Goddess dressing.
Steak tartare ($14) comes with Sophia’s (of Belmont) Greek yogurt and ancho chilies. Raw meat isn’t for everyone, but if you like it, this is exactly how it should be.
For dessert, frozen Greek yogurt, which is made here, comes with fresh and dried strawberries (the dried are wonderful rather than strange), crumbled shortbread, red shisho leaves, and a little rhubarb jam tucked into the bottom of the dish. Chocolate pudding, with a swirl of hazelnut mousse, is garnished with chocolate cookie crumbs, poached Bing cherries, and sea salt.
When you’re done, tiny squares of goat’s milk fudge, sprinkled with sea salt come to the table. Spoke is already crowded. It’s not just that it’s a nice place to meet friends and be able to talk. It’s the bespoke part too. Every pour and nibble is well thought out. And you are never wondering where your waiter is.