Restaurant Review: Republic, Bloomfield

 

Restaurant Review: Republic, Bloomfield

Courtesy of Republic

★★½ [Very Good-Superior]

Republic in Bloomfield calls itself a gastro pub and whiskey bar, a modest claim considering what it has to offer: more than fifty beers on tap, in cans or bottles; twenty wines by the glass and more in bottles in the wine cellar; an impressive collection of spirits including ryes, small-batch and single-barrel bourbons, single-malt and finely blended scotches.

Virtually all of the above, rows and rows of bottles, are displayed on glass shelves above the bar and in glass cases below, catching the light and saying “try me.” Imagine the specialty drinks a creative bartender, aka mixologist, could come up with. Republic has one, and the night we were there we could have had a strawberry basil martini, a maple bourbon milkshake and even a Sazerac, the cocktail that time forgot. Made with buffalo trace bourbon, absinthe, Peychaud’s bitters and a lemon twist, it dates back to 1859 when it was the signature drink of The Coffee House in New Orleans.

We could have dined at the stainless-steel bar to watch our drinks poured, shaken or stirred, or at the marble counter in front of the pizza oven, at a communal table or at a high-top in the thick of the with-it scene, but we asked for a table on the balcony where it was calmer and we could concentrate on the food. Hey, it’s my job. Yes, it’s fun as the menu signals it will be—with “Small Bites, Big Bites, Flatbreads, Between the Buns, Everything Green” and items like a pushcart hot dog or a corned beef Reuben you might want but not expect in a place that also serves coq au vin.

Intrigued, we began to explore both ends of the culinary spectrum, starting with nibbles such as parmesan popcorn (addictive) and bacon-wrapped dates like your grandmother might have served to her bridge group. But forget Grandma when you order the deviled eggs. Those mild-mannered little stuffed eggs are daubed with Sriracha, a fiery red chili sauce ubiquitous in Asian restaurants where aficionados douse everything in sight with it. Recipes for Sriracha vary (a popular brand comes in iconic red rooster bottles) but they’re all hot as Hades. Two of us loved it, one scraped it all off. I settled for a tiny dab. Fire-eaters might request more.

Asian barbecued ribs, on the other hand, were as approachable as they were delicious, with just the right balance between hot and sweet in an alluring rich dark sauce with hints of oriental spices.

A “Cuban sandwich,” ordered because the person who ordered it wanted “something light,” delivered more than expected: an opulent sandwich stuffed with pulled pork, sliced ham, Swiss cheese and dill pickles—plus, a cone of French fries in a wire basket. All disappeared, diet be damned.

I ordered a Caesar salad because the menu indicated that you could have it with white anchovy and/or toad-in-the hole (brioche toast drizzled with truffle oil and topped with a soft-cooked egg). I make a mean Caesar salad, close to the New Orleans original, but it’s a lot of work, including tableside preparation. I didn’t expect tableside drama at Republic but I said yes to both salad options because it sounded like a near-classic flavor replication. It wasn’t. The presentation was showy, but it didn’t work. A whole anchovy hiding in greenery startled the taste buds without flavoring the romaine. The toast soaked up the egg yolk and was hard to distribute into or onto the lettuce leaves. Garlic was lacking. Parmesan was not offered. Bottom line: Bland conquers Caesar. Moral: Market research reports that anchovies and soft eggs are loved by some and despised by others. Ergo, you can’t please all of the people all of the time and sometimes (if it means messing with a traditional recipe) it’s better not to try.

Big Bites were bolder and better, and some were great, especially those that departed from the playbook, including an über burger beyond the wildest dreams of gourmet and gourmand, daringly dubbed “Heart Attack Burger.”

The burger is splurge food of a high order. Lush, lavish, melt-in-the-mouth delicious, it consists of domestic Kobe beef, a huge slab of foie gras, black truffles, brioche and a truffle demi-glace dipping sauce and goes for $49. Serving it “with a bottle of Darioush” ups the price to a jokey 200 bucks, but if you’ve got the dough, they’ve got the goods. We skipped the cabernet and ordered one H.A. Burger for three of us to share. Big spenders might want to pig out but we were on a tasting mission—and a budget. Did it taste like a million bucks? Not really, but with the heftiest slice of foie gras I’ve seen on a plate in a long time, it sure was rich.

Not to worry: Republic offers lots of interesting entrées for a lot less.

Coq au vin for $17, for example. While adhering closely to my favorite coq au vin recipe (attributable to Auberge Pyrénées-Cévennes, a famous Parisian bistro in the 11th Arrondissement), the chef at Republic braised the chicken in Riesling instead of Burgundy, which changed everything—delightfully. Serving it over papparelle was a nice idea, too. Barramundi en Papillote for $26 was a winner, cooked and served in a parchment envelope the size of a dinner plate. Opening the package, with a whoosh of fragrant steam, revealed firm, white, boneless fish, perfectly fresh, perfectly poached with a dice of colorful vegetables—sun-dried tomatoes, asparagus, yellow squash and fingerling potatoes. Basil pesto was served alongside.

The showcase of the dessert list was a kid-in-a-candy-store experience called “Sweets Under Glass,” samplings of five different treats presented on a cake stand under a glass dome. Ta-dah!

Aside from a disappointing dumbed-down baked Alaska, the other desserts—bread pudding, crème brûlée and tiramisu—were also good, and the Maple Bourbon milkshake, which sounds silly, was sybaritic. As the menu puts it, quoting Edgar Allen Poe: “Fill with mingled cream and amber. I will drain that glass again.”

Republic

39 Jerome Ave., Bloomfield, (860) 216-5852, republicct.com

Lunch: Mon. to Fri. 11:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Dinner: Mon. to Thurs. 5 to 10 p.m., Fri. and Sat. 5 to 11 p.m. Sun. 4 to 9:30 p.m. Price range: appetizers $5 to $16, entrées $15 to $33, desserts $7 to $12. Wheelchair access (first floor). Major credit cards.

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This article appeared in the October 2014 issue of Connecticut Magazine

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