Last year, we were pleasantly surprised and pleased with our first visit to the Ship’s Inn on Fair Street, a pleasant basement restaurant which we found elegant and understated. Perhaps Chef Mark Gottwald had the night off, or perhaps the crowd got ahead of the kitchen, but this visit wasn’t as successful.
We arrived at 6:15pm, when things were still quite quiet, and placed our drink order and our dinner order. The drinks and the starters arrived fairly soon, before the crowds did. But by the time our main courses arrived, the restaurant was packed and deafeningly noisy. Conversation was nearly impossible, probably because of the low ceilings, and the chairs got increasingly uncomfortable during the meal.
The serving staff was professional and courteous, but the food was far below what we had expected from our previous visit. Almost every dish seemed to be accompanied by a similar, somewhat sour brown sauce.
Our order of Oysters Mignonette ($18) was six ample oysters on ice, with a small bowl of mignonette sauce in the middle. Mignonette sauce is just a mixture of red wine vinegar, shallots and pepper, but this one just seemed to be vinegar, and you were misled by the amount in the bowl that you should dip the oysters in it. That is too much vinegar: the sauce is best drizzled or dropped on the oysters: otherwise it overpowers them and your sinuses.
The other starter was their seafood chowder ($12), the only non-brown dish, and it had ample pieces of some kind of seafood in it. But, while it also had a lot of potatoes and was made with cream, the chowder was thin (more soup like) and, oddly, included pieces of tarragon, imparting an unexpected flavor. It didn’t seem to really be a chowder.
One of our entrees was Paillard of Wild King Salmon ($39) with balsamic and Malbec reduction. It was served with two little warm lettuce leaf towers with carrots, celery, lettuce pieces and a few mushrooms. Really lovely presentation, but low on actual flavor. Likewise, the accompanying brown sauce was pretty nondescript, and didn’t really seem to go with the salmon. The salmon itself was very tender and not at all over cooked, but also oddly flavorless.
Finally, and brownest of all was the veal scaloppini citron ($34) with house made spinach and egg fettuccini. The ubiquitous brown sauce went a little better with the veal, which consisted of a 3 huge sautéed slices of veal, relatively tender, and served with a carrot puree and a spinach or perhaps kale puree. The downside of this dish is the visual effect of these huge brown veal slices and only a limited amount of the very good fettuccini. The plate presentation was simply off-putting.
Finally, we let the waitress up-sell us a chocolate soufflé ($12.50), which was delivered soon after our meal was cleared. It was a perfectly standard, undistinguished soufflé that any of us could make in our kitchen, with nothing to recommend it. The waiter poured the sweet cream sauce into the soufflé as expected and we dug in. It was fine, but nothing exciting.
While there was nothing really wrong about our visit other than the deafening noise, there was nothing really right either. Everything was sort of bland and OK. With two glasses of wine and tax, but before tip, the bill was $164. We found that kind of high.