Bellies and taste buds in holiday overload, my mom and I snuck away from Christmas leftovers in search of a cozy neighborhood spot for a light dinner. We shivered out of the cold into Hyde Park's Bungalow, an "all-natural, mostly organic, predominately local" restaurant—which, contrary to what its moniker suggests, is neither small nor historic. It is, however, very much a neighborhood place. The name pays tribute to North End architecture, and the period photos that line the walls add to the ambience. I got my cozy quota when we were seated in a cute little booth for two—luckily, the friendly hostess hung our coats for us, or my post-Xmas rear wouldn't have fit in the seat. We were momentarily stalled by the extensive drink menus. I briefly considered the shrimp and grits ($9) sauteed with bacon and white wine sauce, and the butternut squash ravioli ($9) in browned butter with sage. But, looking for something less rich, I decided to order the stuffed portobello mushrooms ($7) on a bed of greens with balsamic reduction. Meanwhile, Mom had forged halfway through the cocktail list. She ordered the cucumber thyme martini ($8), with Zubrowska, Tanqueray Rangpur, Chartreuse, infused with thyme and garnished with cucumber. This light and smooth combination—with a pleasantly surprising hint of sweetness—was a refreshing choice.
Just as I was getting impatient, the appetizer arrived. The portobellos were heavenly: shredded cheeses perfectly crisped, stuffing moist and mild enough to bring out the flavor of the mushrooms—all on a bed of perky, organic greens and the perfect amount of balsamic syrup. Luckily, the Bungalow's stuffed portobello mushroom comes in several incarnations: appetizer ($7), sandwich ($9) and vegetarian sandwich ($9). As a side note, herbivores will be happy to find a separate menu available. Just because you don't eat meat doesn't mean you have to pick through the menu, cobbling together a meal like a second-class citizen.
My euphoria faded once the entrees arrived. We had decided to forgo more hearty options like the lamb short ribs ($17), meat and potato ($24) and pulled pork sandwich ($9), in favor of something easier on our overworked tummies. The pairing of Idaho trout ($17) with a pecan crust seemed like a daring idea—one which may actually have worked if it had not been doused in herb butter. As Mom will attest: While butter and pecans work well together in ice cream and Christmas candy, they overwhelm the delicate goodness of trout.
Similar overzealousness ruined my stuffed free-range chicken ($17) on cheddar grits. The "day's fresh vegetable"—four stalks of asparagus—perched atop the large chicken breast. Pour butter on the vegetable in this arrangement and butter will also cascade onto the fried chicken and its bed of creamy cheddar grits. Call it "white wine sauce" if you will, but I know butter when I taste it, and it should never come into contact with anything deep-fried. To make matters worse, both the breading and the grits were generously seasoned, forcing my over-salted taste buds to take refuge at my water glass.
Mom and I both had plenty of room for dessert, which turned out to be a very good thing. We mulled over the tarte tatin ($7)—French apple pie with cinnamon ice cream—as well as Bungalow's signature banana split ($8) with blueberry coulis, chevre caramel and mint chocolate. We even considered the Dirty Girl Scout ($8)—Godiva chocolate liqueur, Creme de Menthe, Rumpleminz and espresso rimmed with graham cracker. Instead, we went for our all-time favorite, creme brulee ($7). The Bungalow's version was classically flavored and perfectly proportioned. The crisp, still-hot burnt sugar complemented the soft layer of cool, mild custard underneath. Appetites appeased, we chatted comfortably into the night.
—Gretchen Jude believes in the power of milk, not butter.