As we downed sandwiches and ginger ale on the patio at the new Sorelle, a bakery and cafe in Charlestown's City Square, a mighty wind blew stray napkins and receipts in circles around our feet. Trucks leaving the scene of the Big Dig rolled by, horns blasted, and cadets from the Navy Yard marched within view.
At Sorelle, you feast on contradictions. Peter Niemitz, designer of Square Cafe in Hingham and Red Clay in Chestnut Hill, among others, gave the interior a poured concrete floor, high-gloss plexiglass tables, and chairs created by Philippe Starck, designer of the ultramodern Ian Schrager hotels.
There are marble countertops, floor-to-ceiling windows, banquettes in black leather, and the sounds of Tony Bennett in the background. The menu is heavy on fresh salmon, tuna, roasted turkey, and lobster. At an espresso bar on one end of the long counter, coffee is pressed into sleek white demitasse after sleek white demitasse. The other end is stocked with wine and beer.
When places like this start opening in your neighborhood, you know the rent is going up. Charlestown, where Olives was the only place with white tablecloths and grocery clerks put the bagels in the international foods section, is beginning to mimic the South End. Tangierino (Moroccan) and Paulo's (Mediterranean) have expanded the culinary landscape and will soon be joined by Meze, which is Greek.
Sorelle's owners, Mark Sills and Marc Perelman, have no intention of getting left off the map. Their original Sorelle Bakery on Monument Square still makes meatloaf, chicken cutlet dinners, and sought-after carrot cake and cheesecake. The new location, which keeps the same 7:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. hours, puts froufrou into sandwiches, salads, and individual tarts and cakes. With beer and wine, Sills and Perelman are trying to build an early-dinner and leisurely lunch following.
Our lunch wasn't the most luxurious, but it beat Taco Bell. Taking our cue from people ahead of us in line, we ordered at the counter and picked up our meals when our number was called, which if nothing else provided friends with some insight into one Saucier's waitressing skills. (She spilled coffee, let napkins fly, and forgot the forks. Good thing she wasn't counting on a tip.)
The winning sandwich -- roasted eggplant, zucchini, roasted red peppers, and mozzarella on French bread with herb vinaigrette -- was one of six combinations made on a big sandwich press. It was crisp on the outside, and the combined vegetables and gently melted cheese inside kept their distinct flavors.
That sandwich press must stay pretty busy. The other choices, Italian prosciutto, tuna melt, turkey with bacon and cheddar, and croque monsieur (the classic ham and Swiss), all sounded melt-in-mouth amazing, though we didn't order them. Our tuna salad and roasted red pepper combination was fine, except that it came on a huge wad of baguette that no normal-size mouth could possibly get around. It held enough field greens for a substantial salad, so we used a fork. A friend's turkey, cranberry, and Swiss combo was tart, proving that the cranberry relish was made on the premises.
We bused our own table and went back to the counter for dessert. A hermit bar the size of a brick and full of raisins was soft and chewy. The same texture was achieved with a chocolate chip cookie that was really a cookie cake. A lemon bar had the same softness and a good crust but wasn't lemony enough.
Individual molten chocolate cakes, tiramisu, and fruit tarts are the eye candy of the display case. They're from Finale, the posh pro of made-to-order desserts. Perelman thought they matched the sophistication he and Sills were looking for.
"At a time when restos are scaling down, it's an affordable luxury," he says. A busboy, however, is not.