Amuse-Bouche: La Laiterie
Sick of the Ratty? Toying with venturing outside the Thayer Bubble? Amuse-Bouche is a guide to the restaurants near College Hill: what’s worth your money, your time, and your RIPTA navigation skills.
La Laiterie’s reputation precedes it. Much ado surrounds this coveted Wayland Square bistro; with Valentine’s Day approaching and restaurant buzz at a fever pitch, its name is probably popping up more often than usual, and with good reason. It is a jewel box of a restaurant, an ideal setting for the paradigmatic candlelit dinner, and its menu reads with perfect balance between innovative and familiar.
The ambiance sets very high expectations, which are immediately met with oily focaccia and — get ready for it — whipped salted honey butter once you’re seated. An entire section of the menu is devoted to meats and cheeses from Farmstead, the cheese shop located on the other half of the restaurant. Choose a descriptor for the cheese you’re craving and a chatty, informative cheesemonger will put together a board for you. Simple as this is in concept, in execution it is one of La Laiterie’s biggest assets. Another highlight was a slice of grilled bread smeared with blue cheese and topped with a nest of caramelized onions and succulent slices of beef tongue. Close your eyes and pretend it’s ham and you’ll be rewarded with a harmonious little tidbit.
The best thing about Chef Matt Jennings is that he isn’t afraid to experiment. His cooking exhibits an obvious local emphasis, which corresponds with a frequently changing menu. This can have glorious results, as shown by wintry burgundy snails with mushrooms, delicate roasted veggies, and bread for mopping up residual juices, but so too can it backfire. Several items from the winter menu came off heavy-handed and one-dimensional. A grilled cheese with the potential to be nothing short of epic — aged cheddar with apple compote, maple syrup glaze, and bacon — was on the right track but fell short, lacking a spicy or acidic component that would have acted as a counterpoint to its opulence. The heralded 1/2-pound Vermont burger would’ve been better if it had been less sculpted; as it were, the beef was too lean and was slightly manhandled, which forced the adorning Big Ed’s aged cheddar to take the backseat.
Is La Laiterie a good place to hit up on Valentine’s Day (or any other day)? Absolutely. It’s not without its flaws, but learn how to navigate the menu and you’ll hit gold.
High: Cheese is the muscle behind the menu, so every dish that spotlights it without compromising it — cheese boards, baked macaroni and cheese — is worth every penny.
Low: Some dishes are overambitious and overbearing. Without enough to brighten them up, they can feel like a brick in your stomach. That’s not pleasant, and it’s definitely not conducive to Valentine’s Day post-game.
Bottom line: Jennings’ ingenuity meets mixed results. La Laiterie’s dishes range in price, from $3 small plates to $30 entrées, but don’t be tempted to buy the most expensive thing; instead, stick to what they do best: a curated selection of top-notch charcuterie and cheeses.