Détente is off Winter Street in the Nevin Square shopping cluster. You won’t see it driving by. It’s tucked away. Never having been, I wondered if this was going to be solyanka, buckwheat blinis, and pelmeni meet cheeseburgers, hot fudge sundaes, and roast turkey. Not the theme. Brezhnev and Ford were nowhere to be seen on the walls, just a cozy two-floor restaurant with interesting paintings and a modest bar. Times photo editor Gabrielle Mannino, Times occasional food critic Amanda Saltzberg, and your correspondent were seated upstairs at a table with a spacious high-back bench. Our server Sadie had mineral water on the table before you could blink.
Co-owner Suzanna Crowell, who runs the front of the house, later said Détente is named for relaxation, as opposed to a prelude to SALT talks. “Nothing to do with the Cold War,” she texted.
“The first time we heard the word ‘détente’ was during a winter we spent in Paris, and when we asked the locals we were with what it meant, they said ‘relaxation.’ Then we looked it up and the English translation said relaxation, release of tension, or the slackening of a bow after the release of an arrow. We thought that was a great name for a restaurant, because we hope that’s what people will do when they come in.”
She went on to describe that the squiggle motif on the menu, the Détente logo, represents an unwinding knot.
One of the gems of local waters, sea scallops are on nearly every Island menu. Cooked just right, they require zero seasoning to be tasty. How to elevate them from that baseline is the rub. And they’re very easy to overcook, especially in a busy kitchen. Chef Crowell delivered flawlessly timed scallops on a dish alive with garnish and sauce. The scallops were smoked and seared and accompanied by matchstick radish and toasted tortilla purée, a fabulous texture combination. Sluiced under the whole thing was salsa verde. These were elevated scallops!
Your correspondent loves octopus, and has enjoyed it scores of different ways — on paella, as sashimi, sautéed on pasta, pickled on salad, and so on. Job one in preparing it is to rid it of its inherent rubberiness. The bigger the piece you are serving, the harder that becomes. So when stout tentacle segments came to the table on a slick of ajo blanco haloed in tarragon oil, the tingle of skepticism I felt translated into a hesitant fork. This was the grilled Spanish octopus appetizer. When I finally dug in, I went right to my happy place, my octopus happy place. The skin was crispy, imbued with smoke, while the inside was tender.
The peach salad was as much sorcery as chefery — Taleggio cheese, gooey and funky, truffle oil, verjus (unripened grape juice), arugula (North Tabor Farm), and criminally ripe peaches blended into a phantasmagorical rush for the palate. Amanda’s, Gabrielle’s and this correspondent’s forks never left our fingers while the salad was on the table. It lasted about two and a half minutes.
It’s hard to keep Jerusalem artichokes, a.k.a. sunchokes, from tasting like buttered mulch. They want to be mulchy. We have them in our garden, and take a shot at preparing them from time to time. They look like ginger root and throw up tall stalks of yellow flowers this time of year. We manage to shift them from mulchy to earthy. Chef Crowell sidestepped the mulch flavor by smoking them, mixing them with fingerling potatoes and Parmesan flakes, and glazing them in truffle honey. End result, they and the potatoes tasted like autumn. What does autumn taste like? Well, it’s hard to articulate. It tastes like Chef Crowell’s fingerling potatoes and sunchokes.
“I tell patrons, Don’t Google monkfish,” our server Sadie said. I knew what the fish looked like — a flatfish with a maw of spiny teeth set in a head of spines. It could be mistaken for a B movie creature. Gabrielle and Amanda had not seen the fish before, and looked a bit sketched out. The dish and the fish didn’t resemble each other, so the novelty of its appearance on the web faded. The monkfish was cut into a steak that rested against a little mound of gnocchi blended with pork belly, scallions, and MV Mycological shiitake mushrooms. A Picasso-esque swoosh of chili swept up the side of the plate, heightening the presentation. The crispy crust made me think the fish might have been grilled, but Susanna Crowell later told me otherwise.
“The monkfish is simply pan-roasted in a very, very hot pan,” she said.
Tucker Pforzheimer, managing partner at MV Mycological, or just MVM, called shiitakes and monkfish an excellent pairing. Pforzheimer said Chef Crowell has been sourcing from his farm since it began in 2015.
Your correspondent also found those mushrooms went well with the fish. The gnocchi were hearty and yummy, albeit a bit filling. All in all, the dish came off like a hunter’s plate, with the monkfish substituting for venison or rabbit. Like the fingerlings and sunchokes, it really evoked autumn.
Amanda treated herself to the “Beef Duo,” roasted sirloin and braised short rib. I managed to sneak a piece of the sirloin — a decadent piece of medium-rare magic — what you might ask for a few hours before the electric chair. I tried for the short rib: “Did you just growl at me?”