Birreria Invents a New Kind of French Fry
I'd never seen anything quite like it before: dense, skin-on, yellow-fleshed fingerling potatoes parboiled, smashed, then fried in good oil until the edges and the exposed parts turned brown and crunchy. With a little sea salt, they were unforgettable, the flesh deeply yellow, and as dense as a student who hasn't studied on finals day.
They came with a lamb sandwich found on the newish lunch menu at Birreria that includes three heros: lamb with olives and pickled garlic ("It tastes like puttanesca," my dining companion noted), sausage with sweet and sour pepper relish, and portobello mushroom with taleggio cheese. Prices range from $14 to $16, and also include a heap of dressed baby arugula trying hard to be considered a salad.
If you endured the cramped, crowded, and hot Birreria during its early days in the summer, you won't recognize the vibe now. In the afternoons, the place is laid-back, with sun streaming in the windowed roof, and space heaters distributed about the premises like invading robots. No delays downstairs or up, you'll be seated immediately, and the place now makes a fine afternoon retreat.
Among other things, we also tasted a new item on Birreria's revolutionary mushroom menu (a real boon to beer-drinking vegetarians and vegans), one dish of which was cited in my 11 Most Astonishing Dishes of 2011. The fried shiitake caps flavored with sage ($15 for a generous serving) could have been good, except the beer-batter crust was too thick and greasy, and the sage flavoring too faint. A thinner coating of starch and about three times the fresh sage would have made it very delectable, because the mushroom inside had turned almost like béchamel under the influence of the frying medium.
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