Great food and cocktails and art… Oh my!

51 Lincoln in Newton seems to have it all. Jeff Fournier, owner and Executive Chef, has taken his eclectic and well-rounded experience in the food world to create a gem-of-a-place in this busy Newton Highlands eatery.

Combining traditional practices from his French-Armenian upbringing with creative twists from his extensive experience in World cuisine, Fournier presents a menu and eating space that is as diverse as it is familiar. Reading like a trip through the Middle East, Italy and South East Asian, 51 Lincoln’s menu offers something for everyone, with some exotic tastings for more adventurous diners.

We arrived for our 8pm reservations about 30 minutes early — eager to begin our culinary adventure. The General Manager, Ryan Moses, took special care to ensure we were seated as soon as possible… despite the full dining room. I asked Ryan if I could possibly meet the Chef, as I had been referred by his Web Designer from Watershed Media.

CORRECTION: I just found out Watershed Media did not do 51 Lincoln’s website, but IS redoing the Vintage website for Jeff.

While waiting for our table, a server came over and asked if he could get us a cocktail. We gladly accepted, ordering the Pomegranatini (Raspberry vodka, pomegranate juice & a splash of Chambord) for myself and the Scarlet Martini (Svedka Clementine, blood orange juice, cointreau & an orange twist) for Dan ($9 each). As soon as the server walked away with our orders, Ryan was back to seat us at our table.

The configuration of 51 Lincoln has not changed much from it’s predecessor, Le Soir Bistro; however, the atmosphere and decor are different now. The vibe is more casual… friendly, welcoming, funky. We loved Le Soir… the food was delicious; it was a bit more reserved though. 51 Lincoln boasts a louder, more relaxed crowd with funky artwork on the walls (painted by none other than the chef himself) and a hustle-bustle of activity.

The menu consists of five sections: Food and Liquor Pairings, Appetizers, Pasta and Risotto, Entrées and Side Dishes. I began with the House Smoked Cod Cake with a celery root remoulade ($12) and Dan ordered the Bibb Lettuce and Beet Salad with daikon radish, cucumber and pickled watermelon rind ($9). Shortly after we ordered, the bread basket arrived containing a nice chunk of (moist and delicious) cornbread, a few slices of rosemary brioche and an olive studded bread that was delicious… served with some of the best olive oil I have had in a while, poured over a few cloves of roasted garlic.

Our appetizers arrived and, after a bite or two, the Chef came over to introduce himself. We chatted for a few minutes and discussed some of the other ventures that are keeping him more than busy. Somehow between managing and directing the kitchen at one of Boston Magazine’s Best of Boston 2007 restaurants and exercising his creative juices with his own artwork, Jeff Fournier has found the time to open a new catering and gourmet food shop across the street from 51 Lincoln (Citrio Catering and Provisions), to purchase and become the new Chef of Vintage in West Roxbury, to be the consulting chef and partner on a new Irish restaurant opening in Hyde Park (Townsend’s), which will also boast a coffee shop and bakery next door AND hopes to also open a Jazz Club and Art Gallery in the same space in Hyde park following Townsend’s opening in [hopefully] two weeks!

Okay, back to the food… The cod cake was amazing. The smoky flavor permeating every morsel and the remoulade was beyond delicious. The bibb salad — for being such a simple concoction — was bursting with flavor. In particular, the small stack of shredded daikon radish was a tart, sweet and salty combination — difficult to describe and too good too resist.

Shortly after finishing our appetizers I ordered a glass of the Nobilo 2006 Sauvignon Blanc ($7) –which was followed by a surprise: two orders of the Taleggio Stuffed Medjool Dates with prosciutto, served with a hefty shot of the house-made Lemoncello (normally $9 each) — compliments of the chef! These surprisingly-rich bites were SOOOOO good. Now mind you, I do not eat red meat… except for the occasional (and closeted) cheating with crispy bacon. I could not, however, insult our gracious host by not trying this combination as it was intended to be. The sweetness of the dates, combined with the tangy cheese and salty pork was a flavor combination that left us both oohing and ahhing. The Lemoncello (sometimes spelled Limoncello) was good, but a little too harsh (read: burned a hole in throat) for my liking. Maybe if I hadn’t already had a martini (and a glass of wine at home before we left!).

Before dinner was served, Jeff came out again to see how we liked his surprise… and to share some interesting information about the ingredients used in the dish. Our meals came out soon after, though we were feeling pretty stuffed after the bread, appetizers, drinks and the added surprise.

For dinner, I had the Miso Marinated Roast Salmon with baby bok choy and sushi rice ($21) and Dan had the Mahi Mahi with Braised Chickpeas, sautéed swiss chard and orange butter ($26). The salmon was cooked perfectly (medium) with a sweet glaze and crispy edges. A pan-fried piece of salmon skin garnished the meal adding crunchy texture and saltiness to the overall fabulous presentation. Dan’s mahi mahi was delicious as well. The fish was rich in texture and taste and the braised chickpeas turned a typically bland side dish into a savory, Middle-Eastern inspired delicacy.

In addition to the huge portions of food sitting in front of us, we forgot that we had also ordered a side of the fried Truffled Polenta served with a Parmesan dipping sauce ($6). When I say the dipping sauce was outstanding… it’s an understatement. If I had not been SO full by this point, I would have eaten every last drop of this amazing sauce.

Too full for dessert, Dan ordered a cappuccino and I asked our server to wrap my remaining salmon and polenta fries. If I had to pick one thing that could have improved our evening, it would have been our server. While he was a nice enough guy, he seem very preoccupied all evening and a bit rushed with his speech. To top it off, when he boxed up our leftovers, he tossed my salmon and rice on top of the polenta fries… and didn’t include any of dipping sauce (the entire reason I WANTED the polenta wrapped up to begin with!). Aside from that, our experience was very positive and we will definitely be back.

Well-worth a date night, but not really kid-friendly. This is the kind of place to share with someone special, where you can relax and savor your meal. Keep your eye on this Jeff Fournier character… it looks like he’s going to be around for while!

51 Lincoln in Newton

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