WEYMOUTH — Tucked in a corner of Weymouth Landing, hidden among faded facades and closed storefronts, new restaurant Passport is a diamond in the rough.
Started by noted Fat Cat Restaurant owner Neil Kiley, the eatery is only two months old, but it may just be the key to bringing the Landing back from the brink of the mundane.
“Being it’s so close to Fat Cat,’’ said Kiley, “we didn’t want to do a Fat Cat two. We wanted to do a new concept. I want going out to eat to be an experience.’’
Mission accomplished. At once eclectic and modern, Passport has an intimate feel. Suitcases are placed like scavenger hunt decorations, and a wall mural showcasing scenes from abroad is both great decorating and beautiful art.
Much to my surprise, the restaurant was practically empty on a rainy Thursday night. My group of three was seated quickly, with drinks soon in hand, chosen from an impressive craft beer menu.
Though anyone would enjoy the selections from the bar, the menu is not for the selfish eater. Each dish is intended to be shared.
Four sections of the menu – teasers, tasters, smalls, and shares – coordinate with the sizing of the plates and, depending on your group, how much of each you’re likely to try.
Luckily, I brought close confidants with me, including a picky eater and a tough critic whose cooking would rival any restaurant’s.
Seeking adventure, I left the dish selections mainly to our enthusiastic and knowledgeable server, who set us out on a culinary trip that spanned every section of the menu.
First up, the teasers. The size of the palm of your hand, the dishes have enough flavor to satiate while being small enough to leave room for more.
The Thai-pumpkin coconut soup ($3) was the first treat, cumin and cayenne adding a marvelous flavor to this small dish. The spices mingled beautifully with the coconut and pumpkin’s sweetness, and the three of us devoured it.
Housemade cheese tortellini with pesto crème ($4) was unmatched in its flavor, the buttery softness of the pasta coated in perhaps the best pesto any of us had ever tasted.
Also not to be missed was the mussel-coconut stew with chicharone ($6). Mussels cooked to perfection were nestled in this fragrant broth, with sweet corn and cilantro adding a welcome burst of flavor.
I would skip the hushpuppies with cayenne honey butter ($3). The balls of fried cornmeal were dry and seemed overcooked, and were nothing compared with the real Southern thing. The scrumptious drizzled sauce saved them only minimally.
No longer ravenous, my group moved on to tasters, meant to be five to seven bites a plate.
Pierogis ($6) were flavorful, doughy, and sprinkled with bacon. They were preferred by the critic and picky eater, but I’d rather get the empanadas ($6), which were crispy and packed with spiced meat. I gobbled them up.
Mac and cheese with corn and bacon ($7) was a unanimous hit — cheesy spirals of pasta complemented by bacon.
Though the picky eater doesn’t go near fish, the critic and I did, but neither of us cared for the tuna crudo with fennel orange salad ($8). To be fair, I may just not be a fan of raw fish, but the pink bits of meat were both salty and bland. The side salad did not add much.
We soon started into the smalls, intended to be small appetizers. Perhaps the highlight of my meal came from the Jamaican pork tostada with mango bbq ($8). Tender, juicy, spiced meat was sided with the bright flavoring of the mango, all atop a crispy tortilla. The dish is a must-try.
The steak frites with truffle parmesan fries ($14) was also delicious. Well-cooked steak was sided with slender-cut fries, enhanced with the subtle flavor of truffle oil.
In the largest shares section, the artisan cheese plate ($14), though seemingly small, packed big flavor. The cheeses change daily depending on the whims of the kitchen. This day, umbriaco with stone ground mustard, brie with truffle honey, and cambozola cheese sided with a raspberry sage jelly were intriguing and fun to experiment with.
Though not listed on the menu, the restaurant also serves dessert. Our server showed us photos of the possibilities on his iPad that doubled as a note taker, but we settled on good old-fashioned churros.
Warm bits of fried dough, as if not good enough on their own, were served with gooey caramel, whipped cream, and thick chocolate sauce for dipping.
Perhaps the only more notable thing than the food was the speed with which everything was served. Made from scratch in the kitchen, dishes came out hot and quickly, and kept up with our ever-evolving demands.
The three of us left with full bellies, leftovers, and the full intent to bring as many people back to the restaurant as possible. If there is one thing for sure about this new spot, it’s that Passport is well worth the trip.