on January 17, 2013 at 11:44 PM, updated January 18, 2013 at 12:00 AM
After 16 years of running Verve, a landmark in downtown Somerville, owner Rick St. Pierre has developed a style that works for his establishment. It’s inextricably linked to the fortunes of the borough, “which has grown and become more of a destination, especially for restaurants,” he says.In contrast to Verve’s early days, when, he says, people might ask, “What’s a French bistro doing in Somerville?” no one would wonder that today. “We’re really upping the game for Somerville in terms of improvements,” says the civic-minded St. Pierre (Somerville’s 2011 citizen of the year), who runs several events benefiting nonprofit organizations.
“There’s been a lot of reinvestment in Somerville, and I think the restaurants and retail reflect that. It’s been a transition in terms of what Somerville can support.”
So no, Verve’s 12-ounce New York sirloin at $36 with a choice of sauces (Bleu d’Auvergne, demi-glace and au poivre) and several other high-end steaks aren’t out of place in the Somerset County seat these days. Ditto a $36 rack of lamb special or butter-poached lobster ($28).
Manning the kitchen are Josh Falzone, the chef de cuisine who worked at the Bernards Inn, while executive chef Jim Bolitsky, trained as a pastry chef, is a Verve veteran. They fulfill the owner’s philosophy: “Give people what they expect, with a little twist.”
A good example is the honey-roasted pumpkin soup ($8) with a swirl of cardamom cream; cold weather comfort food enlivened by a touch of the exotic. Mac and cheese ($8) gets a truffle boost, produced with the proper degree of subtlety. The protein is never the only point of interest on the plate; there are no standard-issue steamed vegetables here.
The lamb, for instance, comes with a gratifyingly rich potato gratin. Pan-seared Atlantic salmon ($26) gets a boost from cauliflower gratin and tomato chutney. The plump and meaty Mama Verve’s Maryland-style crab cakes ($16/$30) are brightened with beurre blanc, counterbalanced by arugula to cut the richness. It’s a perfect blend, but then, St. Pierre is a native of Maryland.
If a less-expensive or expansive dinner is desired, patrons could make a meal of the appetizers, which include some basic offerings (steamed clams, calamari, both $12) but also more substantial items that can do double-duty. Hanger steak ($15) in a demi-glace with port onions is listed as an appetizer but really is a small plate. Put it together with a soup or salad, say the poached pear with candied walnuts ($13), and you’re all set. But don’t forget dessert.
If a restaurant makes the effort to produce its own ice cream and sorbet, that shows something about the character of the place. I have high standards in this department, and chocolate chip mint is my favorite flavor. If it’s that fake green stuff, please don’t serve it to me, but Verve’s version is cream-colored and smooth as can be, with the right blend of mint and chocolate. Ice cream and sorbet ($8) can be ordered on their own, but a scoop of ice cream also comes with other desserts, such as the chocolate soufflé ($9) and the warm apple tart ($9), with its delightfully chunky apple passengers setting sail in a skiff of pastry.
Wines by the glass come in 6- and 8-ounce pours. By the bottle, St. Pierre calls the more expensive wines a bargain, as they carry less of a markup. Or for a $15 corkage fee, the restaurant enables patrons to supply a favorite bottle of their own.
“If someone wants to bring in something special from their homes, by all means,” the owner says.
Service is fine; it gets the job done, though perhaps without quite the same polish as the food.
But at the front of the house, Brian Mack is “like a chef behind the bar,” producing snacks and specialty cocktails, with juices made from scratch. The bar is separate from the comfortable, peaceful dining room with its subdued lighting. An alternative venue Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights is the second floor lounge, a place to kick back and have dessert and drinks, accompanied by classic jazz. It adds another dimension that enables Verve to live up to its name.
Cody Kendall: CodyDine@aim.com
18 E. Main St., Somerville. (908) 707-8655, vervestyle.com.
Hours: Noon to 9:30 p.m. Mondays, noon to 10 p.m. Tuesdays through Thursdays, noon to 11 p.m. Fridays, 5 to11 p.m. Saturdays. Closed on Sundays.