Committee

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A funny thing happened to me the last time I was at Committee. I ran into a friend of mine who was there having drinks, and as we were catching up, he said “So, this is your new spot, huh?” Well…not exactly. I’ve only been to Committee twice. But I can see how an observer might think I’m there on a weekly basis. This is, after all, the third time I’ve written about the Greek and Mediterranean restaurant since it opened two months ago. First there was the cocktail pop-up at the Baldwin Bar at Sichuan Garden in Woburn, which offered a preview of Committee’s innovative beverage program. Then there was the grand opening party with drinks and hors d’oeuvres. So yeah, I’ve become pretty familiar with the place. But it’s not like anyone yells “Opa!” when I walk in (as awesome as that would be).

Which is not to say that I wouldn’t be fully content to be a regular here.

 Gergely Szabo whips up a couple of Blood Orange Old Fashioneds.

Gergely Szabo whips up a couple of Blood Orange Old Fashioneds.

Committee opened in the Seaport in June, filling a surprising gap in the Boston restaurant world: while plenty of establishments offer top-notch Greek and Mediterranean cuisine, very few do so in such a contemporary setting with a highly original cocktail program.

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Situated on the bottom floor of the Vertex building in the thriving Innovation District, Committee is spacious and open, with concrete floors, an exposed ceiling, and floor-to-ceiling windows that let in ample light on a sunny afternoon. Flower boxes and candlelight further soften the industrial look.

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And the restaurant is clearly designed for conversation. Guests congregate around long, communal tables that occupy the center of the room, while smaller, more intimate tables line the perimeter. Comfortable leather couches and chairs constitute something of a small den by the front of the restaurant, overlooking the street.

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Then there’s the expansive, three-sided bar where beverage director Peter Szigeti and his cohorts bring their European influence to a cocktail program that’s both imaginative and approachable.

The crowded bar and full tables give Committee a lively, jovial atmosphere, and that’s exactly what general manager Demetri Tsolakis wants. “Committee is all about bringing people together,” he says of his young restaurant. “We chose the name ‘Committee’ because, similar to the way a court committee unites to make a decision, people gather here to savor, pass, and sip together.”

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I’ve done my share of sipping at Committee. But on my most recent visit, I was finally able to get acquainted with the food. Committee’s menu comprises meze-style small plates designed for sharing. Among the warm and cold options are plenty of beloved staples of Greek and Mediterranean cuisine, like grape leaf dolmades – a savory blend of rice, pine nuts, and spices wrapped in soft grape leaves.

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Moussaka is another Mediterranean classic, a layered dish typically made with eggplant and ground meat. Committee’s version skips the meat and swaps out eggplant for artichoke, adding caramelized onions, potato, and a three-cheese béchamel sauce. The flavors in this delicious, lasagna-like dish are beautifully balanced – the artichoke isn’t overpowering, the cheese is rich but not heavy, and the spices contribute a peppery essence. A must-order.

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Then there’s olive salad, which I suppose is good if you like olives. I do not. Moving on.

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If you’re not terribly well versed in Mediterranean cuisine (like myself), you might find a few unfamiliar items on the menu. But the staff are all pretty helpful. Our server, Max, was happy to decipher whenever necessary, as with the Piperia Gemisti – a large, roasted red pepper with tyrokafteri, a warm, spicy dip made of yogurt and whipped feta, oozing out of the top.

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Keftedakia are Greek-style meatballs served with tzatziki. These bad boys are wonderfully spiced and fall-apart tender.

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Max was also happy to offer suggestions, and I deferred to his judgment when he recommended the grilled octopus. As much as I enjoy octopus, I admit I get skeeved out by seeing their suckers. But it’s worth getting past a little weirdness, because this is an exceptional dish – crispy on the outside, not squishy on the inside, and served with caper berries on a bed of fennel slaw.

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Between revered Mediterranean classics and culinary curveballs, Committee’s menu lets you be as comfortable or as adventurous as you want. The same can be said for the experience at Committee’s bar.

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Peter Szigeti’s cocktails manage to be inventive and complex without ever getting carried away. Peter was working at one of the premier bars in Budapest when Demetri made his acquaintance and persuaded him to lead the beverage program at Committee. He and his team have a distinctive, fluid style to their drink making, which Demetri previously described to me as “like ballet with their hands.” And the cocktails live up to their elegant presentation.

The Bitter Mendez is a refreshing, summery drink made with Milagro tequila, pineapple juice, fresh lime juice, and celery bitters. I’m tempted to compare it to a margarita, with the tequila and lime, but the pineapple and celery bitters take it in a totally different direction.

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The Mandarine Sour is a gorgeous drink that tastes as good as it looks. This intricate cocktail combines Mandarine Napoleon (a cognac flavored with mandarin oranges), cognac, dry curacao, vanilla syrup, fresh lemon juice, egg white, and aromatic and orange bitters. The citrus flavor is bold, no surprise, but the vanilla and egg balance it out and provide a soft texture.

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Even a simple drink like the gin and tonic is reinterpreted with unexpected flavors. G’Vine Floraison is a unique, grape-based gin made in France, sweeter than typical gins. In the G’Vine and T, it combines with Fentimans tonic water and is sprayed with a lavender perfume; a trio of skewered grapes serves as a garnish. This is one of the most unconventional gin and tonics I’ve ever had. The lavender aroma is surprising and permeates every sip (though the effect gets to be a little tiring at the end). It’s a big, slow-sipping drink, and don’t skip the grapes when you’re done.

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G’Vine gin shows up again in the Lady in White. A blend of G’Vine Nouaison (less floral than the Floraison), Esprit De June, vanilla syrup, fresh lemon juice, lemon bitters, and egg white, this elegant cocktail has a little bit of everything – a balance of sweetness and tartness, a soft texture, and delightful heart-shaped dollops of bitters on the foam that coats the surface.

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Before closing out, I recalled that when I first met Demetri back at the cocktail pop-up, he urged me to ask his beverage director for something off-menu. He assured me that Peter could whip up anything on the spot and that I’d love it. So I decided to test his skills once again, and asked for a drink made with the official spirit of Greece – ouzo.

An anise-flavored spirit made with grapes, herbs, berries, and spices, ouzo is an acquired taste, as even the most ardent ouzo enthusiast will acknowledge. And since I wasn’t sitting at the bar, Peter didn’t even have the chance to make sure I even liked ouzo (I don’t, actually) or ask me how I might want it prepared in a cocktail.

And yet he came through with a spectacular drink.

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I never found out what was in the cocktail, but it was creamy, smooth, and just slightly sweet. I could definitely taste the ouzo, but its signature licorice flavor was toned down and balanced by the other ingredients. If it ever appears on the menu, I’ll order it again.

Committee’s cocktail program will continue to evolve, and they have a special treat in store as the season draws to a close. The restaurant is soon opening a bar on its patio and will have a dedicated beverage program featuring warm-weather drinks that will be available by the glass and the pitcher. It’s a move that’s both creative and ambitious, and it shows that while Committee is only two months old, it’s already at home in a neighborhood poised for continued growth.

Address: 50 Northern Avenue, Boston

Website:http://www.committeeboston.com/

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