|Every so often, a Capital Region neighborhood collects enough of a variety of restaurants that it threatens to assert a dining-out identity. Cluster a bunch of good eateries together and they help one another by spurring one another, keeping standards high even as the customer base increases. And every time I think we’re coming close to that ideal, I look at Great Barrington and lose hope.|
Great Barrington’s compact business center hosts an amazing cluster of restaurants of varying ethnicity and price range, with a high-enough average price at the best of them to suggest that they enjoy a clientele less reluctant to part with its money than is the case in this area. Clearly, the place has come a long way since Alice Brock’s celebrated Thanksgiving dinners in the ’60s.
Café Adam opened five years ago to showcase the talent of chef-owner Adam Zieminski, who grew up in the area and began his cooking career while still in his teens at the formal dining clubs at Tanglewood. He went on to study at Johnson & Wales University, and worked as far afield as Manhattan, London and Wales before returning to Massachusetts to cook at Lenox’s Wheatleigh Hotel.
Zieminski’s restaurant has a bright, airy feel to the dining room. We stopped in on a recent Saturday and were seated in view of the kitchen’s two large (heat lamp-free) pass-through windows, allowing us to watch a well-coordinated dinner service carried out by the friendly and knowledgeable staff. It was another reminder of the transparency of superior service.
You won’t be shocked to learn that local suppliers are used whenever possible, and the menu changes to accommodate what’s seasonal. Appetizers are a mix of the whimsical, like the fried Spanish onion served with a ginger-yogurt-tamarind sauce ($6), with the complicated, like the goat cheese tart tatin ($10).
Among the salads are a simple mix of baby greens and tomatoes ($7) and winter greens with pear, blue cheese and prosciutto ($9). We sampled the artichoke Caesar salad ($9), which adds marinated you-know-what to the classic recipe of romaine, croutons and grated cheese in a garlicky dressing. (The traditional anchovy component, spurned by so many, is $2 extra, but that gets you white Spanish anchovies.)
It’s not just the snails, of course, that drew me to escargot ($8 for a half-dozen). I’m a sucker for the garlic butter, which, after the tasty critters have been consumed, begs to irrigate the crusty bread that’s been served—a process that awakened interest in those who eschewed the appetizer’s centerpiece.
A baker’s dozen entrées include the torment of several alluring beef preparations, not least of which is the classic steak frites, served with hanger steak ($23) or tenderloin ($31). A Black Angus tenderloin salad, which includes cremini mushrooms and blue cheese over baby arugula, is $31, while the totally hedonistic combo of tenderloin and seared foie gras (with truffled mashed potatoes) is $39.
There’s also seafood, and the fresh catch the night of our visit was rainbow trout with braised escarole ($26), while an entrée of scallops with parsnip purée is $24. Those scallops are also part of the bouillabaisse ($26), which also includes haddock, shrimp, squid and mussels.
It would be enough to serve the roasted chicken breast (from Wellington Farms, $24) as it came out of the oven, with oyster mushrooms. But the accompanying Thai coconut-carrot milk broth pushed it over the flavor edge.
There’s a nightly Farmer’s Market Plate ($19), which in this case was black rice risotto with large chunks of roasted beets and cauliflower, on a bed of cippolini onion and escarole over a butternut sauce. A wonderful new angle on a classic dish.
The best thing about enjoying an order of crab cakes ($26) is to find that they’re meaty and still possessed of a moisture that seems to come from nowhere. This was true of the entrée my daughter ordered, although she was a tiny bit disappointed that the serving wasn’t as fancified as the other two entrées.
Then again, mine looked pretty plain, also, but because its centerpiece was duck confit, it didn’t need to look special. After all, this is a leg that’s been packed in duck fat long enough to cook in a sinful richness of flavor that complements its classic French context, cassoulet: a stew of beans that, in this preparation, also included pork shoulder, pheasant sausage and applewood ham ($25). This is the dish that makes whatever amount of driving you have to do to get here worthwhile.
Potatoes and vegetables are available as side orders, and the $5 plate of broccoli rabe and peas went around the table repeatedly until exhausted. Other items include potatoes, mashed or French-fried ($5 each), parsnip purée ($5) or chips ($2) and even egg noodles with pecorino ($7)
A well-chosen, accessible wine list offers good selections by the glass and by the bottle; this provided us with a nice Washington state Viognier.
Because we’d arrived somewhat late in the evening, we were among the last to clear the restaurant. But at no time did we see or hear the evidence of clean-up: We finished coffee and tea in as pleasant a surrounding as it was during the meal, yet another tribute to the excellence of this operation.
25 Stockbridge Road, Great Barrington, Mass., (413) 528-7786, cafeadam.org. Serving lunch 11:30-3 Thu-Sun, dinner 5-9 Wed-Sun, brunch 11:30-3 Sun. AE, D, MC, V.
Cuisine: continental-inspired American
Entrée price range: $15 (mussels pastis) to $39 (beef tenderloin with foie gras)
Ambiance: airy bistro