Just what Burlington — nay, the world — needs. Another steakhouse. Imagine those sentences dripping in béarnaise-flavored sarcasm and crusted in peppercorns with a red wine demi-glace and a side of creamed spinach. Chase with an obscenely marked-up bottle of cabernet.
But the abundance of these restaurants does not in any way eclipse the pleasures of a meal at the Bancroft. Many “modern steakhouses” attempt to refresh the genre. The Burlington spot, part of the retail development 3rd Ave, succeeds.
The place is so new the parking lot is still under construction. Along the side of the building are ankle-high plantings next to trellises that reach toward the roof. Those who have built it expect the Bancroft to be here a long time.
That commitment is clear in the decor. The restaurant is filled with dark wood, leather upholstery, and rich carpets, the white marble bar surrounded by a tiled floor that looks like a very elegant Q*bert board. Glass panes create a private room-within-a-room at the center of the restaurant, exhibiting businessmen with post-golf glow as if they are an endangered species. There are Pop Art prints and industrial French antiques and glimmering bronze starburst light fixtures; a bank of shiny royal blue lockers with gold animal-head knockers flanks a staircase leading to a catwalk that holds the 3,000-bottle wine collection.
The menu is the same kind of carefully finessed mash-up — classic where it matters, with appropriately eclectic flourishes. Executive chef Mario Capone worked with Lydia Shire for years, at restaurants such as Locke-Ober, Scampo, and Towne. Here he comes into his own.
The Bancroft’s got rich clam chowder, with oversize crackers made in-house. There is excellent steak tartare, a tower of hand-cut prime beef with quail egg, pickled shallots, and violet mustard. The meat tastes so fresh it’s hard not to feel sad for the cow, whose presence still seems palpable.
There are also delicate, elegant lobster raviolini, with thin, tender skins in a fragrant end-of-summer corn broth. Thin slices of prosciutto are draped in composition with bruleed figs and pickled eggplant. There is burrata with peaches, pine nuts, and fennel pollen. The steakhouse crowd and the locavores might not overlap much, but the Bancroft shows their tastes to be natural partners. It’s run by Webber Restaurant Group, which also operates Gibbet Hill Farm in Groton, where much of the produce is grown.
Steaks are carefully selected. Instead of every cut under the sun, we get a shorter list with out-of-the-ordinary options like the Black Angus bone-in filet. It’s tender as can be, but also incredibly flavorful. When the tomahawk steak sails by on a platter, everyone turns to stare: At 42 ounces, with a bone big enough to double as a mast, it is an attention getter. It’s supposed to serve two. So much for USDA recommendations.
Steaks arrive with a glorious charred crust, perfectly cooked. Get them with a cold, creamy sauce spiked with horseradish and white pepper, hot Roquefort butter, or smoked black salt. Add bone marrow or a skewer of blistered shishito peppers. Wagyu top sirloin comes with miso-mustard sauce and twice-fried green beans, skirt steak with grilled avocado and a spicy spill of grits. The green beans are also available as a side, and they are addictive, pushing the edge of saltiness with dark, syrupy soy, perked up with ginger. Creamed spinach comes topped with an egg for even more richness; crisp, golden fries are served in a fast food-style bag, cheeky and cute.
The Bancroft excels at seafood, too. The grains in risotto still have plenty of bite, topped with a grilled lobster tail, flavored with rosemary and lemon. Whole branzino comes off the grill moist and smoky, a perfectly simple presentation made just interesting enough with a slather of green olive and caper relish.
There are few misses. A salad of tomatoes with avocado, aiming to capitalize on unadorned summer perfection, oversimplifies things. A kurobuta pork chop with truffled polenta fries and cherries arrives overcooked and dry; one can see how splendid it would have been otherwise. The kitchen tries with chicken, serving it with pleasant carrot flan, but it’s still not nearly as interesting as the rest of the dishes. Grilled asparagus cancels out the flavor of the accompanying black truffle butter; mashed potatoes taste more like béchamel sauce than Yukon golds.
Pastry chef Jennifer Cobb’s desserts are gorgeously conceived, if they don’t always taste exactly as good as they sound. Blueberry ricotta cheesecake and lemon-buttermilk sherbet begin to melt into each other, so that the flavors muddy. Served with olive oil ice cream, strawberry sorbet, and candied peppercorns, strawberry elderflower cake is a bit dry. When it’s August and the sundae of the month is white chocolate ice cream with raspberry and almond brittle, I want the dish to be brimming with berries.
Much of the Bancroft experience has nothing to do with eating. The wine list is thoughtfully designed, with tasting notes and an eye toward different tastes and budgets; you can get a Bud Light but also a Great Divide rye lager or Jack’s Abby Hoponius Union. But it is the cocktail program that truly impresses, filled with clever touches. The Slush Fund is a deconstructed Manhattan — bourbon and bitters with a good cherry and a side of vermouth slush to add or slurp separately. Smoky and spicy, the mezcal-based Ghostbite features ghost pepper-peach shrub. The flights of fancy sometimes fail to add up: A frothy tamarind flip somehow tastes exactly like a butter rum Life Savers.
But what really makes the place shine is the people who work here. Everyone — the hosts, the bartenders, the servers — is friendly, professional, knowledgeable, and just the right amount of funny. In short, well trained. It is a reminder of how important good management is in shaping the dining experience.
A steakhouse in Burlington: at face value, not the most exciting turn of phrase. But the Bancroft goes out of its way, and — it turns out, so pleasantly — it is worth going out of yours to visit.Devra First can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @devrafirst.