The day I arrive at Trade, Jody Adams' new place on the
fringe of the financial district, the tents of Occupy Boston across the street
are in the process of being dismantled. The irony that I would be gabbing about
wall panels and the culinary creative process while my colleagues fought tooth
and nail to cover every moment of the movement, did not escape me.
But, here's the thing: the menu, the décor, even the air in
this restaurant is electrified with a pure love for food-blazing green arugula,
ruby pearls of pomegranate seeds, smoky wedges of burnt orange-that grabs you
right by the wrist and begs you to come inside.
"We each wrote menus and then fused them," Adams says,
pulling up a chair to a weathered wood table. "Some things are definitely
Andrew's, but sometimes it's hard to tell whose part is whose."
"It was all definitely influenced by travel," Hebert says,
sitting beside her. He is lanky and quiet, and he and Adams volley my questions
back and forth between themselves before arriving at an answer--weirdly similar
to watching a lazy badminton match between friends. "The things here are so
different, because they're coming from all over the world. You'll see the lamb
flatbread is very North African and Portuguese, our fish stew is very Asian."
The flatbreads in question may just turn out to be some of
Trade's biggest assets. Perfectly portioned for a lunch or a light dinner, they
are exercises in subtlety. The mushroom and fresh fig variation, with
gorgonzola, sage-walnut pesto, and topped with arugula, is so keenly balanced,
it's almost difficult to pick out the different flavors (that is, if you've
managed to stop paying attention to the perfectly doughy wood-fired crust).
This is not to say the dish melds into one shapeless blob, rather that each
ingredient highlights the others to equal heights.
"I had just been to southeast Asia, so I really wanted to
put some of those flavors on the menu," Adams says. "I had an idea when I was
over there; there's that classic green papaya salad, and I wanted to bring some
of that to an avocado salad. The chutney that Andrew came up with was not
originally what I envisioned, but it works beautifully."
She's not kidding. The avocado salad turns out to be
resplendent, with clear-cut flavors and intention; the tang of the green papaya
practically lifts up the creaminess of the avocado, and the nutty chutney
brings everything back to earth. The cilantro leaves sprinkled on top are not
an afterthought, as are many green leafy things only meant for garnishing, but
leave a stunning cool layer over the entire dish.
Hebert arrived in Boston eight years ago, and found himself
a job at blu, where Adams worked as a chef. The two clicked on a creative
level, leading Hebert to a position at Adams' revered Rialto in Cambridge,
where he stayed for almost five years. In his last two years with the
restaurant, he took the helm in the kitchen as an executive sous-chef.
When last winter's snows got to be too much, he took a small
sabbatical working for Fig, a restaurant in Charleston, South Carolina. At some
point in between the jaunts to the beach in the middle of February, Adams gave
him a call with an idea for a restaurant with a global palate.
"Jody called me up with an opportunity and I couldn't say
no," he says. "I've been with her long enough, so I know what she wants out of
a dish. She can throw me an idea and I can throw one back."
Adams picks up the sentence seamlessly, right where he
leaves off. "That is what's really important. That has been key to why the
relationship has developed the way it has," she says. "I don't have all the
answers, and I don't want to have all the ideas either. I think that Andrew is
the kind of person that values the process of not just learning about food, but
learning how to evolve in this business."
Hebert is a fan of the grilled squid with fried tentacles;
Adams, the buckwheat waffles with fried oysters and maple crème fraiche (one of
Hebert's creations). Skirt steak is on the menu for the not-so-adventurous, but
so is an expertly cooked whole grilled fish, drizzled with lemongrass chutney
and paired with crunchy cumin-roasted potatoes. What's immediately striking
about the list is that, on the whole, each dish is wildly different, yet
cohesive. Each plate contains the culinary influence of an entire culture, but
has been molded to something uniquely, "Adams/Hebert."
"We wanted to do the dishes in a way that was reflective of
us, and wasn't muddied by too many flavors," Adams says. "We wanted the food to
taste fresh and alive and as the weather gets colder, to continue to use a lot
of citrus and herbs and chiles and spices that brighten things, as opposed to
going the route of heavy, braised things."
As the temperatures do finally start to drop, Hebert
expresses his excitement over certain ingredients coming back into season,
namely citrus. Blood oranges and kumquats top his list, as do
pomegranates-already featured in a stellar pomegranate-glazed eggplant with
capers, olives and pine nuts.
The dining public of Boston, as Hebert sees it, is smart
enough to know the difference between inspired cuisine and the latter, and
holds its chefs to an elevated standard. Not a problem, according to Adams.
"I think that the Boston public is educated and adventurous,
but I don't think they're fickle," she says, as Hebert nods beside her. "I
don't think that they're interested in super trends, just great food. People
are coming here and it's just bursting at the seams."
Trade is located at 540 Atlantic Avenue, Boston. Open Monday-Friday for lunch, 5:30pm-10pm for dinner Monday-Thursday, 5:30pm-11pm Fridays and Saturdays, and 5:30pm-9pm on Sundays. Call 617.451.1234 or visit trade-boston.com for more information.