In a non-descript alleyway in the center of Union Square, my dining companions and I opened a large door to reveal the perfect box of a restaurant. We sat at the bar. We ate wonderful food. We talked. And we emerged happy and content 3 hours later, analyzing which was our favorite bite amongst all the lovely things we ate. Thus was the pleasure of discovering Journeyman in Somerville.Truth be told, I was, initially a bit ambivalent about eating at Journeyman. Though I wanted to support the work of 3 aspiring young people who went out on a limb and started their own restaurant, I had read many lopsided reviews. But the more I dove into the varied views, the more I realized that Journeyman might be just the kind of restaurant I love. And, in fact, I was smitten. Journeyman's concept isn't for everyone. But I went with the ideal dates: two friends who love food and appreciate the art of good food. We sat at the bar, giving us front seats to watch directly into the focus of the chefs. Instead of a menu, Journeyman presented us with a choice of 3 tasting menus: 3, 5 or 7 course, meat or vegetarian. Between the 3 of us, we created the perfect meal: a 5 course vegetarian, a 5 course "omnivore" and a plate of house made charcuterie.
For me there is such pleasure in giving over to the whims of a good chef. And we were happy from our first amuse-bouche: white beans with herbs, confit veal tongue and light-as-air gougeres made with gruyere. And I enjoyed my "Vaccaro", a perfectly tart mix of Ethereal Gin, Aperol and Cocchi Americano. We ate this with homemade rye breads, one sourdough and the other with caraway. One of our favorite dishes of the night was the silky fois gras terrine served as part of our charcuterie platter. Next, we enjoyed the earthy liverwurst and the rougher, but just as tender squab pate. Finally, the miso pork rillettes, perfect for spreading on bread and eating with a German walnut-mint mustard.
Our first "official course" reflected what I loved most about Journeyman. It was a warm salad, that both inspired by sense of salad and how to cook. Instead of a standard plate of greens, they offered perfectly cooked seasonal vegetables artistically arranged on a plate. We enjoyed golden yellow beets, pickled watermelon radish, fresh fava beans, tender Thumbalina carrots, pea tendrils, potato puree and a warm wheat pilaf. On top, deep-fried quinoa replaced croutons. They were graced with herbs, cut right from the garden that lay against the window boxes directly in the main dining area.
Next, another treat that, I can promise tasted far better than it sounds: a roasted carrot soup with a nicoise olive and chocolate ganache. Fried snow peas and more pea tendrils draped on top. I am not a fan of cooked carrots, but one spoonful of the carrot soup eaten with the olive-chocolate mixture was just this side of dessert. It was fruity, delicate, deep.
On the meat side, a dish that was just as good: a Pig's Head torchon with panko on a sauce gribiche and a raspberry-rhubarb mostarda. I dove, though, right into the tender morel. I could have eaten those alone all night.
We then enjoyed braised artichokes that were lightened by a vinegar reduction. Again, I fell for the maiitake mushrooms that were on the side, though the polenta was perfectly cooked. I never quite "got" the addition of the parmesean coated popcorn, though it was tasty.
The meat course this time: a duck confit that made my dining companions swoon. We were more ambivalent about the Parisian gnocchi which weren't quite light enough to merit our admiration.
Our mains were the weaker part of the night, though still then, each dish had an asset. I enjoyed the homemade canelloni which were brightened by the addition of lemon zest to the fresh ricotta filling. While I could have skipped the pea tendrils, I loved the spring composite of salsify, peas, favas, celeriac and kholrabi.
The meat dish consisted of a large chunk of smoked pork shoulder that was too dry, too heavy. It missed, in many ways, the joys of the other dishes. However, the fresh corn pudding that decorated the side was sweet and creamy.
We were easily turned again by the whole concept of a "Pre-Dessert." This time it consisted of a sliver of goat cheese cheesecake topped with a sweet and creamy fresh corn sorbet.
Our main dessert took the best of the season, rhubarb and transformed it four ways. I adore rhubarb but stick to compote. Here, it was served macerated in raspberry juice and elderflower, highlighting the vegetal taste of the fruit. The beignet (I had idealized visions of it being warm) was tender and filled with rhubarb jam. What I loved most was the delicate and tart rhubarb-hibiscus sorbet . The rooibos-panna cotta was elegant in look and taste-a chai like cream topped with rosy rhubarb syrup.
But the meal wasn't over. Journeyman treated us to 3 last bites: a chocolate biscuit, a rose hip topped butter cookie and an airy and heavenly homemade Campari marshmallow. As the meal ended, we talked about the pleasure of Journeyman. The staff was excellent. Meg, in particular took the time to patiently explain each dish and to make sure we were content. The intimate restaurant was calm enough to allow us to have conversation and hear one another without yelling over background noise. And each dish surprised and delighted us in different ways. No, Journeyman may not be for everyone. But we will be back. I know that another evening, another season will bring another round of wonderful food in a warm atmosphere.
Journeyman, 9 Sanborn Court, Somerville, 617-718-2333