If you were a fan of the former Audubon Circle restaurant, there’s a good chance you’ll feel right at home at the new Audubon Boston. The vast majority of the staff has stayed on, the interior’s sleek wood walls and sunny windows remain, the pot stickers are still on the menu. Chef Suzi Maitland even brought back an old favorite, the 8-ounce burgers. Owners Beau Sturm, Jay Bellao, and Josh Childs, of Trina’s Starlite Lounge and Parlor Sports, are hoping the restaurant stays a neighborhood staple. With their friendly service, affordable prices, interesting drinks program, and eclectic menu, they are off to a solid start, with a few exceptions.
On a quiet rainy evening we start with the drink special, a cognac version of the Sazerac ($10) and a Jack’s Abby lager ($6). Salt and pepper shrimp ($9) arrives with the crisp fried crustaceans and a nutty sesame broccolini salad. A pear sauce drizzle and plenty of fresh jalapenos make this an inventive sweet-and-spicy combo. We don’t detect the numbing zing of Sichuan peppercorns (as promised on the menu), but the dish is balanced nonetheless.
Spring pea ravioli ($15) are soft pillows of pea- and ricotta-filled pasta topped with a rich beurre blanc, ribbons of mortadella, and a generous smattering of fresh peas and their tendrils. It’s the kind of wonderfully rich handmade pasta we expect at sister restaurant Starlite. On the burger ($9) which comes with lettuce, tomato, pickle, and choice of roast potatoes or slaw, we add bacon ($1) and cheese ($1). Our patty is juicy and perfectly cooked.
After hearing we are Trina’s fans, our server sends out Bellao, who thanks us for making the trip across the river. “We are still very new and working out the kinks,” he tells us.
Alas, they are apparent on our next visit. After a Sox game, the place is packed with revelers soaking up sunshine at open windows, and gathered around the bar to watch the Kentucky Derby on TV. The energy in the dining room is fun and festive, but some things menu-wise get lost in the shuffle. One drink seems to have a shy pour; in another we find a hair. The server whisks it away with apologies, and brings a replacement. We are a bit surprised that it still ends up on the bill. A burger arrives undercooked, and a dining companion is underwhelmed by her corn husk flounder ($15). The fish itself is meaty and cooked well, with a fine edamame salad, but it’s short on seasoning, and the bed of sticky rice is bland, without enough of the accompanying chimichurri to perk it up.
There are bright spots. Ramie’s favorite grilled cheese ($9) with Muenster, fontina, and a side of those crusty roast potatoes, is promptly brought out to the hungry toddler at our table. After she’s done (she was done, right?) we fight over morsels of the rosemary focaccia filled with gooey cheese. Honey jalapeno wings ($9) sticky-sweet and spicy off the grill, are stacked beside a little arugula salad and a cool dill dressing for dipping. Homemade spreads ($4 each) come with soft grilled pita. The BLT spread is creamy and smoky with roasted tomatoes and studded with bacon; the garlic-feta version has a nice briny, salty bite.
In 2003 Sturm was the general manager at Audubon Circle, and hired Bellao as a barback. With nearly a dozen years combined experience at this location, says Bellao, they “really want people to know how important the neighborhood is to us.”
I return for a solo lunch one weekday at the bar. A cup of Tuscan kale soup ($5) is homey with a few chunks of tender Italian sausage (no chicken, though that’s part of the description), and kale that’s close to disintegrated. Could it be the dregs of yesterday’s pot? Carrot salad ($10), with its mound of frisee, sweet golden raisins, shredded carrots, and sesame-ginger dressing topped with a perfectly poached egg, is a beauty. There is a slow, steady stream of patrons, girlfriends meeting for midweek lunch, men in suits talking business over beers. Bellao surveys the dining room, chatting with customers and thanking everyone for coming in. His heart’s in this. His team will smooth out the bumpy spots, and more neighbors will descend.Catherine Smart can be reached at email@example.com.