Monday October 19th, Soft opening
Watertown is really an area on the upswing, being centrally located, with more affordable housing, a new hotel, and biotechs escaping the high rents of Cambridge.
Since I work in the area, the arrival of newly opened BRANCH LINE from the owner of Island Creek Oyster Bar, Eastern Standard, Row 34, and The Hawthorne, has long been anticipate. With a stellar record like that, you know fans of Garrett Harker will be coming in droves check it out.
But I see this more as a local hangout than a destination restaurant. Not that it isn’t excellent, and well-worth a drive, but there are so many small businesses around the Arsenall Mall/Aresenal on the Charles area that have been waiting for a place like this (Strip-T’s has until now been the area’s lone signature restaurant), it seems likely that it will have more of a local vibe to it.
Three of us went to the first night of the soft opening, and although it was unadvertised and 6PM on a Monday, the place mostly full when we arrived, and packed by the time we left. I’ve since been back for afterwork drinks on a Friday, which was also already popular with the locals (even the outside seating under heaters was crowded despite the cool temps).
BL may be a little hard to find if you are not familiar with The Arsenal on the Charles complex, but if you are standing in the entrance of La Casa de Pedro, face away from Arsenal Street and walk forward 100 yards then turn right. We walked, but it seemed like there was a fair bit of parking back there (garage across the street too).
Two things stand out about Branch Line to me…
First, the wine/beer program.
If you are serious about beer, you’ll probably enjoy the beers here. 20 INTERESTING beers on tap (many local/regional) behind the long bar with a striking long minimalist row of taps set in stone, with another 20 or so by the bottle. Not a Budweiser in sight, but plenty of funky, sour, or just darn tasty beers to choose from. A beer cave with a see-through viewing window is located out front next to the patio.
The wine list is not huge but with a decent number of choices by the bottle, and again populated with plenty of interesting sounding wines that you’ve probably never heard of before. Although the wines-by-the glass list is only ~10 wines long, it includes such usual grapes as Picpoul from Southern France, and Nerello Mascalese grown on the slopes of Mt. Etna in Sicily. Most of the bottles are in the mid $20-90 range, so quite affordable.
However, I was a bit disappointed that no cocktails were offered (I like to start a meal with a creative cocktail).
Second, these guys know how to roast things.
In fact, pretty much everything, whether meat or vegetable, is roasted thanks to both a wood-fired grill and a rotisserie. The flame-grilled flavor really came though on the fish.
- LU’S CUKES: With broken cream, mint ($4)
~Apparently a family recipe, this was a minty fresh starter, not large but shareable (we shared everything).
- WOOD-GRILLED BRANZINO: With fresh herb salad, green chermoula ($24)
~This is pretty much guaranteed to be their signature dish, with a wonderful wood-grilled flavor. If you are scared of whole fishes, don’t worry, they’ll show you how to dissect it (or watch their video on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/branchlinearsenal/videos/1100553593295878 )
- GREEN CIRCLE ROTISSERIE CHICKEN: With house sauce (half bird for $17)
~An excellent, moist chicken with lightly crispy skin, in a light jus. Delicious, although the sauce was maybe a tad salty.
- ROTISSERIE CAULIFLOWER: Harissa, charred chard, gremolata ($16)
~Killer! This is a whole cauliflower head and perfect for sharing. This will be another signature, I’m sure.
- ROASTED CARROTS: Yogurt, parsley ($7)
~I enjoyed this, a nice simple dish that highlights the well-roasted, tender, sweet whole carrots.
- OLIVE OIL CAKE: Sophia’s honey yogurt, pineapple ($6)
~Moist, pleasant, but probably the least exciting dish we ordered. The dessert menu is short, with only 3 choices, and a number of sweet wines and whiskeys.
Service was good, despite being the first week open, although maybe it could be a bit more personable. It’s a nice, attractive open space with very high ceilings, moderately loud but not excessively so. There is also all-year-round outdoor seating (with lots of heating lamps). A Bocce court will make it’s appearance eventually!
Dinner only for now, but lunch will start around Thanksgiving time.