Saturday, January 2, 2010

Barcode: Woodward

In the restaurant and bar business it’s always a good sign when your peers are early adopters of your product. It probably bodes well for Woodward, the new restaurant in the precious, high-end boutique Ames hotel, that we saw so many other industry types eating and drinking on our visit. There’s chef Barbara Lynch, here’s bartender Misty Kalkofen of Drink, over there the staff of Lynch’s Sportello, and elsewhere Matthew Curtis, owner of Middlesex Lounge and Tory Row. Our guest and us, industry veterans too, fit right in. Or we would have, if we didn’t feel slightly underdressed in the business suit and cocktail dress crowd. OK, only she did. We have no sense of shame.

Some of that draw comes from another familiar face, Bill Codman, who’s spent time mixing at Locke-Ober, L’Espalier, and No. 9 Park. “Industry people are always excited for a new place,’’ he said. “We’re directed to industry people as well as the general public.’’

There’s room for both in this two-floor space that rides the line between historic Boston charm and deliberately stylized “style.’’ The upstairs loft juxtaposes segments of sleek, artsy surfaces and calculated warming touches. Rows of glass display boxes break up the dining space and draw attention with their curated wood-crafted curiosities. It amounts to a contemporary art museum cocktail reception for an episode of “Antiques Roadshow.’’ Black steel girders jut from ceiling to floor, an antiseptic-looking fireplace growls in the corner of the room and the expansive windows overlook the Old State House. “Benjamin Franklin meets a supermodel,’’ the press release says.

It’s a peculiarly postmodern take on the concept of a contemporary bar, down to the tiniest details. We felt like the armrests of the bar chair we sat in were bracketing us like a set of air quotes. Codman pulled us back down to earth with his relaxed and informative bar style. The offering of pickled bar snacks - grapes, carrots, beets - helped as well (pickled food for a soon-to-be-pickled liver). He’s the type of bar man who’ll explain the varying methods for extracting oils from cocktail herbs, be it through slapping, muddling, or smashing, and has spent time carefully considering a signature shaking style of his own after attending a workshop on shaking techniques. In other words, he’s the ideal of the New Bartending, which is really the Old Bartending, come to think of it.

The product he’s most excited about is their Woodward Ale ($6), an exclusive beer developed with Smuttynose. A fine eating beer, it’s not as aggressive as an IPA but has many of its qualities. “There’s some cumin and cardamom in there. It’s a little cloudy but ever so soft. Like a younger brother to an IPA.’’

We found the State St. Smash (Grand Marnier muddled with lemon and mint, $14) bewitching. It’s a deceptively simple cocktail we’ve been trying to re-create with varying degrees of success since. The Dedham Winter (spiced apple cider, Cabana Cachaca, chartreuse, clove, $13; below) is the apple martini substitute here, Codman says. Apple and rosemary are very complimentary, and combine here for an herb-heavy, tart, crisp confection that’s so easily drinkable. More adventurous, but nonetheless eye opening for us, was the Scarlet Letter (Milagro silver tequila, Del Maguey mezcal, fresh cranberries, $12). Mezcal is a tough hang for some but we were captivated by the tart smokiness.

“This is one I would drink,’’ Codman explained.

Wouldn’t he drink them all though?

“I’m not making cocktails for me; I’m making them for you.’’

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