When I received an invitation from the Chiara Bistro in Westwood, I was thrilled for one particular reason: I continue to be perplexed by the lack of wonderful, independently owned restaurants that exist west of Newton. With the exception of some gems such as Blue Ginger in Wellesley, Tomasso’s in Framingham or Oishii Sudbury, there are few places that offer good food and a welcoming atmosphere to stressed out parents, or any adult for that matter, on a date night.
What we discovered as we entered Chiara on a particularly snowy December night was a warm and welcoming restaurant that immediately helped us to feel far removed from the day to day challenges of our wonderful, but needy toddlers. It was clear as we sat there throughout the evening, that many of the customers were regulars. And, in fact, Dan Kerrigan, the general manager, confirmed that approximately 70% of their customers came frequently, often from Westwood or Dover. What surprised me, then, was all the people from Natick, Wellesley, Holliston and even Framingham that deserve to about this wonderful place.
A fireplace offers a place to have a drink while you wait for a table, while the open kitchen, offered entertainment. The earth tones added to the comfortable space, while our server frequently helped to give us a more in depth description of the meal. While the atmosphere is energetic, the seats are spread out enough that you can still enjoy a romantic dinner without feeling as though you are dining with strangers.
We began by nibbling our way through the delicious sun dried tomato spread that was served with crackers, while I enjoyed a drink with fresh cranberries that sparkled like jewels.
In order to try a range of dishes, Chef LaCount sent me smaller portions of a few dishes. I started with seared scallops, with a foraged mushroom risotto, red Swiss chard and chestnut brandy cream. The dish was topped with thin slices of roasted chestnuts that added an earthy crunch to the dish.
My husband was smitten with a fabulous plate of French fries. Not only were they served crispy with their skins still on, but they were topped with both smoked sea salt and freshly grated horseradish. This completely unexpected taste made this one of our favorite dishes of the night.
Next, my husband had a dish of butternut squash and ricotta gnocchi. They were served with seared mushrooms, a sage brown butter sauce, pearl onions and a marscapone cream. To top it all off were rich bread crumbs, coated with truffle oil whose scent perfumed the room.
I was served a cinnamon rubbed duck with a side of confit root vegetable purée, bacon brussel sprouts and a bacon maple Demi glace. I am not a duck lover, but the combination of the cinnamon, the perfect roasting, and the sweet sauce helped to balance this gamey meat. I can also conclusively say that while I typically love brussel sprouts, this sweet and smoky preparation would convince anyone of who good they can be.
Next (and yes, I was already well on my way to being full!), the Chef treated me to a pumpkin seed crusted salmon. It sat on a sage bread pudding which, in turn, was placed in an acorn squash bisque. Finally, an orange-cranberry compote rounded out the dish. I love salmon, but to me this dish was the weakest of the meal. The best salmon dishes rely on three things: fresh fish, barely cooking it and simply salt and pepper so that the richness shines through. This piece, however, was fully cooked, while the garnishes made it difficult to appreciate the fish itself.
On the other hand, my husband loved his main dish: a beef short rib that was served over pappardelle. The sauce consisted of brocolli rabe, confit cherry tomatoes and garlic chips with a sprinkle of rosemary. It was excellent, being much lighter than many short rib dishes.
As I often find in restaurants, the desserts were the other weak link of the evening, though it may be that I so typically find them to be simply too sweet. That was the case here with a chevre cheesecake with a spiced apple, caramel sauce; a Chocolate-orange Bavarin with dark chocolate mousse and a cookie plate. In the future, I may simply try another of the wonderful drinks.
And we will be back for a few reasons. First, a number of the items, such as the burger, were quite affordable. They also offer a three course prix-fixe, on Sunday through Thursday for $33.00. Second, as the menu changes seasonally, it is the kind of restaurant that is so easy to return to. Finally, it was nice to sit, relax and just feel taken care of for a few hours.
Chiara Bistro, 569 High Street, Westwood, 781-462-8118