Friday, November 6, 2009

Barcode: Tempo

For the jaded bar scenester, the prospect of heading outside the city is daunting. Too many bars are mired in outmoded mixing habits and ingredients. But on the plus side, you’ll occasionally find a spot like Tempo in Waltham where the things that seem old hat in town - house-made infusions, kitchen-driven mixing ingredients, classic-cocktail excavating - are tinged with a genuine air of enthusiasm and a refreshing lack of pretension.

Not that Waltham is some barren outpost. The stretch of Moody Street where you’ll find Tempo is a veritable hot spot. Tempo’s interior, seemingly pulled from the ideal of “modern Cambridge bistro’’ wouldn’t seem out of place a few miles further east.

Speaking of infusions, bartender Hafsa Lewis was jazzed about the ones she’s working with here. The Sparkling Pear Martini (house infused pear vodka, St. Germain, fresh lime juice, sparkling wine, $9) in particular. It’s hard to get too enthused about St. Germain any more; it’s like the bar equivalent of music’s auto-tune. Sure it can make for a hooky song, but overuse has soured its appeal. The sparkling wine here toned it down though. We might’ve added a bit more.

“A lot of people drink this on its own,’’ Lewis said of the vodka. We can see why. It’s smooth and fruity, but thick with a sticky presence that made us nostalgic for bag lunch fruit cups.

After that, the Ginger Lime Martini (house-infused citrus vodka, ginger syrup, fresh lime juice, $8) pulled us back into the drier realm we’re more comfortable in. Sipping this back and forth with the Sparkling Pear was like a push and pull between two extremes. The Japanese Plum Martini (Pearl Plum vodka, ginger syrup, fresh lime juice, red wine, $9) was our favorite. It’s also the most popular and the favorite of the staff as well.

“I like the complexity of the Japanese Plum,’’ manager Erin Barnicle told us. “It offers a bold flavor and you can drink more than one. Some martinis you have one and they are so sweet you can’t drink another.’’ Too true. A dry but fruity splash of Shiraz brings this one back from the edge. The ginger syrup made in house by the pastry chef gives a nice spicy finish.

Tequila, rum, and gin make token appearances on the list here, but we would’ve liked to see a little more movement beyond vodka for variety. A few older cocktails come out of left field like the Gensac Stinger (Marquis de Gensac VS Cognac, White Créme de Menthe, $8) which, if you’ve never had one, is a lot like drinking brandy and brushing your teeth at the same time. But the type of hipster cocktailer who instinctively turns up her nose at vodka martini lists doesn’t need columns like this to decide where to go to drink. Everyone else looking for a nudge to check out a place outside the city that’s still excited about what it does, consider this your notice.

Tempo , 474 Moody St., Waltham. 781-891-9000.

Boston Globe

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