September 30, 2005
The tiny kitchen at PotPie, 904 Westport Road, creates an amazing array of gourmet dishes for its patrons. A chalkboard-based menu facilitates quick changes.
For two years owners John and Sarah Williams have combined his kitchen flair — acquired at the California Culinary Academy, Zin, Hannah Bistro Café and Macaluso’s — with her extensive front-of-the-house experience to create memorable dining experiences. The couple chose the name to evoke a sense of coziness, and then added potpies to the menu when customers demanded them. The results are spectacular.
During my second visit, I ordered Chicken PotPie ($12). I received a tender, flaky crust wrapping 10” by 6” of peas, diced carrots, corn kernels and a generous helping of succulent chicken meat in thick gravy.
The lovely Spinach and Brie Tart ($6) appetizer featured another dynamite crust. Thin slabs of seductive, melted Brie layered with fresh, deep green spinach leaves. My husband, Mark, ordered Steamed Mussels ($8). He received more than two-dozen tender, moist shellfish bathing in buttery broth and used a spoon and bread to savor every last drop.
Mark’s Goat Cheese Salad ($8) featured three, toasted baguette slices topped with warm cheese that surrounded mixed greens dressed with slightly sweet roasted beet vinaigrette. Red wine vinegar dressing nicely complemented my House Salad ($5), which included ultra-fresh halved grape tomatoes, wafer-thin cucumber slices and shavings of Pecorino cheese.
After selling wine and spirits for two decades, Mark was astounded that our chardonnay and cabernet arrived in tumblers. Traditional stemware minimizes the warming effect of your hands on wine, particularly white. And the tumblers seemed totally incongruous in a place full of candlelight, linen napkins and upscale food.
Mark ordered Grilled New York Strip Steak with Au Gratin Potatoes and Red Wine Sauce ($19). A mild cheese sauce enveloped thin-cut potato slices that had been baked together and plated in a large square. The 12-ounce cut was juicy and flavorful but had lost considerable warmth by the time it reached the table.
My four Pistachio-Encrusted Scallops with Risotto and sautéed vegetables ($18) were huge with a creamy yet dense texture. “Creamy” also described the risotto.
Although there was no discernable pistachio flavor, the crushed nuts added a nice crustiness. But there was a bit too much black pepper for my taste. Mark’s green beans and my snap peas, carrot pennies and red pepper strips were crisp/tender.
Crisp/tender beans also accompanied my friend Donna’s Pan-Roasted Chicken with Pan Jus ($14). Nearly half a chicken arrived with a well-seasoned, slightly crispy though moist skin, and mashed potatoes like grandma’s. The meat and potatoes could have used a bit more seasoning, particularly because our table did not offer salt and pepper.
Donna had already enjoyed Spinach Salad ($5). A fan of hard-boiled egg slices garnished the pretty and fresh plate. My House Salad was just as good as the first. A cup of New England Clam Chowder ($3), featured potato chunks with bits of skin, loads of clam and tiny celery chunks in a thin but savory cream base.
We tried both desserts on our first visit, Chocolate Chip Bread Pudding with Crème Anglaise Sauce ($5) and Pound Cake with Fresh Berries ($5). An enormous mound of fresh, lightly sweetened whipped cream topped three slices of dense, buttery pound cake, huge, plump blueberries and juicy sliced strawberries.
We couldn’t stop eating the bread pudding even after we were full. Small challah cubes with crust on one side, drenched in egg and milk, arrived in a small crock. Barely melted chocolate chips dotted the pudding and provided a delicious contrast to the crème anglaise we lavishly poured from a tiny pitcher. The flavor was just as terrific the second time.
Service was a bit slow during both visits. I couldn’t tell if it was because of the small staff, a slow server or a desire to create a relaxed experience. On both occasions, our waiter knew the menu, but our second server mixed up which guest ordered which dish a couple times.
PotPie is a cozy, intimate place that, at times, felt a bit too crowded. But that’s easy to overlook when I’m enjoying such terrific food.
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