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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

A JP State of Mind

You know, there is more to Boston and Cambridge than Boston proper and Harvard. There’s an entire city of sprawling burroughs, each with its own unique vibe and all with at least one good restaurant. That’s where I come in, to go to these obscure spots and find us a place to get some grub-because I care that much about where you eat, and because I don’t cook.

This week I found myself in the pleasant and picturesque area known as Jamaica Plain. JP wasn’t always pleasant, however. Back in the day it used to be the quintessential “wrong side of the tracks” (the E-Line, that is). These days, JP is on the up and up. A bustling melting pot of art students, young professionals (or otherwise affectionately known as “yuppies”), a diverse population of Hispanic people, gays and lesbians, JP has become an interesting center of cultural exchange and one can see that in the restaurants and bars that line Center Street. A block away from an all-organic free range bistro one can find awesome Cuban food or even opt for sushi. In this column I could probably name off hand at least five good restaurants in this area alone, but that would be a really friggin’ long article so I’ll just tell you about one.

James’s Gate, located on South and Winter Street just past the JP monument, is a popular hangout for locals, and for a good reason. On one side its a rustic Irish pub with a looming stone fireplace that has a 200 year old mantel and antique church pews, and on the other hand it’s a hip, laid-back restaurant. It is literally a crossroads where the old meets the new, even in the restaurant one can see the convergence of the classic with the modern. In the atmosphere there is the theme of an old fashioned Irish pub, peppered with modern style that is accented by the ever-changing artwork of local and regional artists. Recessed and track lighting illuminate the butter-yellow walls, giving the restaurant a feeling of relaxed coziness. This combination of old and new reaches into the menu, where one can find the comfort food we know and love (like fish and chips) and, also, noveau cuisine (like gorgonzola free-form pasta).

In fact, there are several different menus to choose from. One can go pub grub, gourmet, or for you late eaters there’s a late night menu. If I might say, it’s nice to be in a restaurant that is so inviting and tries so hard to cater to the individual needs of its clientele. Being at James’s Gate is like eating at home, except its cleaner, nicer, and there’s no one sleeping on the couch.

I had been eating so much heavy food lately that I wanted to start my meal with something light and healthy, so I opted for the baked apple salad. The salad is a large plate of fresh mixed greens, crumbled flavorful gorgonzola cheese, crunchy honey baked walnuts, and an entire red delicious apple baked to crisp perfection and spiced with cinnamon. The greens are tossed with a delicate walnut oil vinagrette. The highlight of this dish was the apple that retained its wholesomeness by not being over-sweetened. The taste of this salad could easily go very wrong with the combination of the stinky gorgonzola (it’s like blue cheese) and the sweet walnuts and apple, but the kitchen did a great job of balancing out the ingredients. The baked apple salad is very pleasing to the palate, offering up a different flavor in every bite, and is a nice, nutritious way to start a good meal.

For my main course, I wanted to extend the healthy theme, so I decided on the Arctic Char. Two grilled fillets of Char (kind of like Salmon) are served with grilled asparagus on a bed of lump crab risotto. The plate is then served with a light lemon butter caper sauce. By the way, if you don’t care for really fishy tasting sea-food, char is the way to go. What I liked about this entrée is that it was simple without being boring. There was a general mild flavor to the dish from the flaky, smoky char to the delicious citrus sauce that was nicely accentuated by the saltiness of the capers. The risotto, also, had this subtle quality to it with a slight hint of crab flavor that wasn’t too over-the-top so as not to overwhelm the harmony of the ingredients. I would recommend this dish to anyone who’s in the mood for a meal that isn’t too extravagant but still wants some frills.

Although, both salad and main course were generous portions they still allowed me some room for dessert. It was a busy night at James’s Gate, so much to my chagrin they had run out of many of the desserts offered. However, that just went to show the tenacity of their kitchen that it was willing to go the extra mile to insure that their patrons were happy. The chef had decided to make a home-made bread pudding on the spot. Now that is conscientious. It was a large serving of pudding made with cinnamon raisin bread, drenched in amaretto liquor, drizzled with caramel sauce, and then topped with a heap of fresh whipped cream. Warm and moist, it was a satisfying way to end my meal. My hat goes off to the kitchen who showed me their joy was in cooking and not in earning a pay check (if only all restaurants were that way). I can only hope that if any of you guys out there eat at James’s Gate they run out of dessert. However, I heard that the desserts offered there regularly are very good and judging on my experience I doubt anyone will be disappointed.

After I’d finished eating, I was once again surprised at the conscientiousness of the kitchen. The chef came out and I watched him go to each of the tables to ask the customers how they had enjoyed their meal. This was a regular practice back when people had time, a practice that has been lost to us modern-eaters who often dine and dash. The fact that this man cared enough to see if the people who were eating his food were satisfied was astonishing to me and only added to my reverence of James’s Gate. It was nice to think, “Hey, that’s Brian. He created this food and he cares,” instead of thinking, “I wonder what’s going on back there? Did someone spit in this?” That is why if you find yourself in Jamaica Plain you should go to James’s Gate. Its sincerity is all encompassing. From its comfortable environment to its spectacular cuisine, James’s Gate mirrors and appreciates diversity in more ways than one. So go ahead, treat yourself, have a pint of Guinness, sit back, and eat well. You won’t regret the trip.

The kitchen is open Tuesday through Sunday, from 5:30 – 10 p.m., and open until 11 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays. You can contact James’s Gate via telephone at (617) 983-2000.

If you would like Vanessa to come to your restaurant please contact the Mass Media at (617) 287-7992 or e-mail us at [email protected] or [email protected].