Edible Flora (& Fauna)
Upscale "comfortable" food in Arlington you can bank on it.
Textile mills reinvent themselves as airy, exposed-brick shopping malls. Auto showrooms metamorphose into art galleries and old schoolhouses become condominiums. Banks reincarnate in many guisesin Harvard Square, one was reborn as a Herrells ice-cream parlorbut in swinging East Arlington, the East Arlington Five Cent Savings Bank found new life as the fine-dining restaurant Flora in 1996. Some features of old-fashioned bank architecturelike high ceilings, large arched windows, and a Juliet balcony overlooking the main floorserve a 100-seat dining room quite nicely, thank you. Theres even one table that seats eight inside a vault.
East Arlington does not really swingthats a partly tongue-in-cheek phrase from Floras websiteand Flora, a kind of upscale neighborhood restaurant, proffers comfort and reliable quality rather than adventures into uncharted regions of flavor. Weeknight diners there arent a flashy crowd in Armani suits and minidresses hooting over mojitos; instead, an affable suburban set, mostly over-50 professional types, settle onto red-upholstered banquettes and chat quietly below the gold-framed paintings that hang between sconces. Flora has many regulars, and even sends customers an occasional newsletter. Its friendly waitstaff tends to stay put, averaging five or six years on the job.
The fare is more elaborate than comfort food: call it comfortable food. Red-and-white gazpacho ($7) with a dollop of sour cream and minced cucumber in the center, had a crunchy texture and gained an herbal note of rosemary from its croutons. Fresh sardines ($10), an uncommon offering on restaurant menus, arrived grilled to delightful crispness and loaded with flavor, served on sauted greens with bits of Andouille sausage crumbled in. A beet salad ($9) with bitter greens, grilled onions, blue cheese, and walnuts proved serviceable if not surprising. A glass of silky-smooth French Heron pinot noir ($9) and a pungently spicy Jim Jim Shiraz from Australia ($7) offered potable contrast.
Next, we tucked into a corn and chanterelle strata ($22) in a ragout of squashes, tomatoes, and greens with a glass of an earthy red, Masia M ($11), from southern France. Strata, a cousin to the quiche, resembles a custardy bread pudding. This one was cheesy with a lovely browned crust on top and the heavenly, ineffable flavor of chanterelle mushrooms breathing its magic throughout. Pan-seared arctic char from Iceland ($25), served with succotash, was well-prepared but in no way startling. A civilized, full-bodied Marqus de Cceres Rioja Blanca ($7) proved a worthy accompaniment. The agreeable vegetable lasagna ($21), prepared with black truffle, also had Fontina and ricotta cheeses and veggies like asparagus, spinach, and summer squash enlivening its creamy white sauce.
Dessert, a crisp of wine-poached peachesseasonal and wonderfulwith blueberry fool ($7), was a glorious fruity seduction. We went comfortable, sated, and, indeed, gentle into that good night, where we had parked nearby and easily on the street. Its the suburbs, after all.
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