We recently met some friends at the Libertine for dinner. Hubby and I hadn’t been in many months and felt like it was time to get back in there and see what was cooking.
To start with, our service was pretty spotty. The first round of cocktails came fairly fast, but after that, flagging her down for another round was very challenging (and the place was never full while we were there). We ordered a bottle of wine and then were told after 10 minutes or so that they didn’t have it (same thing happened last time we were there). Then we ordered another one and waited about 15-20 minutes for them to “find it.” It would be nice with Libertine’s fairly small wine list (which incidentally I think is a very nice wine list), if they at least penciled things out when they run out.
Anyway, we were with our “order like a drunken sailor” friends, and we did just that. I was glad to get to try a large portion of the menu to get a good overview of what’s offered there right now. My favorite first course was the bone marrow. They were large bones cut length-wise and super easy to scoop out the marrow. They were salted nicely and had the perfect accompanying micro greens and celery leaf salad. It was really acidic which was perfect with the buttery bone marrow. The sliced toasted pieces of bread were the perfect thickness and had the right amount of crunch and softness as well. My only complaint was I could have used a bit more of the salad. Mainly because I liked it so much.
We also liked the fried potato wedges—they were lightly battered and stuck in a glass with a “local cheese fondue” and harissa (hot pepper paste). They were cooked just right and were hot. The bottoms that were stuck into the dip were a little soggy though. I probably would prefer them served separately, but I can appreciate the ease of this serving technique.
We also had the chickpea fritters with pureed eggplant and fried capers. I loved the eggplant puree that was spread under the fritters. It carried the acidic flavor here and was necessary with the fritters, which were kind of dry and basic without it. They had a decent nutty flavor, but I was scooping up every last bit of the eggplant that I could to go with them to add moisture and balance.
We had the bacon flight, which is always good. You can’t really go wrong with the lovely bacon from Smoking Goose. They have changed the presentation into a little pot with all the bacon on top—it’s not quite as crisp but whether that is a bad or good thing depends on your taste in bacon. I enjoyed it and the sauces served alongside, even though you barely need them with that tasty bacon.
The least successful starter by far (yes, I’m only on starters) was the octopus in vinaigrette. They were whole baby octopuses that tasted like they were grilled, but other than that had very little flavor. They were too chewy, I am guessing just cooked too much, and while I enjoyed the vinaigrette at the bottom of the bowl, it didn’t stick on the octopus. This one was a big miss for all of us.
We continued on with our wanton ordering of food, moving on to the more “main dish” things (mostly just differentiated by price). The best thing here was the meatloaf sandwich. Funny, our friends ordered this and I was really glad—and it would not have been something I ever would have ordered on my own. It was a thick slab of meatloaf with melty cheese on top—the bread was toasted and had a thick coating of a spicy version of 1000 Island dressing. The meatloaf was moist, and I liked the gooey cheese and zesty sauce. It was really tasty.
The fresh chorizo with polenta was kind of mixed. The silky smooth polenta (think like almost liquidy grits) were wonderful. Buttery, and just the perfect consistency. The chorizo was bland and had none of the kick you expect. It was also maybe cooked a little too much, drying it out a bit. Would have loved to see this dish with another protein. Maybe some seafood.
The goat cheese tart was pretty straightforward-- a tart shell with some creamy goat cheese inside. There were maybe 5-6 slivers of apple on top, and some onion jam on the side, but there was nothing else texturally going on inside. Would have loved to have something else to give it some kind of texture, other than from the crust. The charred onion jam was a nice slightly sweet/slightly smoky flavor and the Brandy sauce drizzled on top some sweetness, but it just called out for something to give it that texture and to make it a truly savory dish. It almost seemed like more of a dessert.
The roasted cauliflower with mint, lemon, red pepper flakes and onions were good. It was roasted just to the point in which the vegetable was cooked al dente, but had a nice charred flavor on the outside. The combination of spicy and acidic flavors with it was nice as well. I particularly liked it with a squeeze of lemon that they served alongside. Would I want to order this alone as my main dish? No. Did I enjoy it as a kind of side dish? Yes.
We also ordered the country-fried sweetbreads—the menu lists the sweetbreads with smoked ham hock, beans and cornbread. What it didn’t mention was the thick strong mustard sauce that was all over the dish. The sweetbreads, while fried crunchy, were mushy with all the sauce—and there was no way to really taste much else because it was just so mustardy. The little cornbread croutons were spared though and were sweet. I would love to see this dish with a drizzle of the mustard somewhere (not on the fried pieces of sweetbread). As it was, it was one of our least favorites.
I feel like there’s been a shift at the Libertine away from being a “gastropub”-type restaurant to a just flat out cocktail bar that serves food. It was a destination for me for the food (not being a huge cocktail drinker myself) and a good one at that. The last couple meals I have had over the last year though have made me slightly less enthusiastic. The service has been a little off (the wine issues, and we constantly had to flag our server down to ask for things) and I’m sad they have changed the tables around—they used to be at an angle so if you had 4 people, you each sat on one side of the square—but now they are straight down the wall so when you are side by side with someone, it feels too close and if there’s just two of you and you sit across from each other, it feels almost too far. I am sure they have done it to conserve space, but it just seems a little awkward. And I think the food is not as exciting as it once was. So all in all, I think a cocktail and a couple of snacks (get the bone marrow) might be the key to enjoying the Libertine in the best way.
38 East Washington Street