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SAUCE

You can get a glass of red with a side of beef

Email|Print| Text size + By Amy Graves and Wesley Morris
November 14, 2003

Memo to our vegan friends: Stay out of the Butcher Shop. Not that this sleek little charcuterie, Barbara Lynch's newest toy in her South End collection, won't tempt you. If your cravings run to olives soaked in rosemary, you might even find something to eat.

As butcher shops go, this one is pretty swank. Instead of a meat scale on the counter and a lot of white tile, there's a gleaming bar, votives on the narrow tabletops, and walls of black slate. A mammoth wooden butcher block has an air of commerce, but by 9 p.m. it's surrounded by Tremont Street habitues sipping big glasses of wine.

One night in late October, we weren't surprised to find Cat Silirie, Lynch's sommelier from No. 9 Park, chatting with patrons and Lynch, very pregnant, behind the butcher block. It was as if we had come to a party at someone's South End address and everyone was hanging out in the kitchen. Through massive plate glass windows, people rounding the corner at Waltham and Tremont streets could see us, and we could see them.

This is no place, then, to just walk in, order brisket from the butcher, and leave. Certainly not if you happen to meet Pep Vincente, the man in charge of all this. A native of Barcelona, Vincente hasn't lost his sense of fun despite a few years living in Boston.

"I want people to be comfortable," he says. "I try to let the food and wine shine and just get out of the way, let people relax and enjoy themselves."

Nevertheless, he often gives tours of the meat-cutting operation downstairs, which is the heart of the whole business. In the daylight hours, five artisanal-butchers-in-training work with chef Jason Bond and a head butcher, Fred Donovan, preparing sausages and veal cutlets, curing prosciutto, and making cassoulet.

The foodies and neighborhood groupies take over at night to snack on figs cooked in honey and fennel (sweet and very fennelly), plates of cheeses and charcuterie, and panini from a sandwich press. We swooned over marrow on toast with sea salt, though it's not exactly on the Atkins diet.

A French soup with shreds of beef prepared traditionally, with a large hunk of toasted bread (the "crouton") encrusted with cheese, took our breath away for a few hot sips before we could savor its complex onion flavors. The panini with ham and cheese was lovely but needed a few more seconds on the sandwich press.

If the whole place strikes you as not exactly a full-menu restaurant, that's fine with the management. Lynch and Garrett Harker, also of No. 9 Park, own B&G Oysters right next door as well, and they'd rather see you snack here and have dinner at B&G.

"This is a butcher shop first, and wine bar," Vincente says. "It's confusing to people. Some people think the butcher table is too upscale. But I'm seeing more and more people taking little dishes at the bar. Then they ask us to cut a couple of links for them to take home."

With whole suckling pigs and lambs hanging nose-down inside the floor-to-ceiling meat cases, this place celebrates meat in a firm, matter-of-fact, European way. The rillettes en pot was our favorite dish on the menu until we found out how they make it: by pouring the fat renderings over pork as it cooks and then pounding the meat with the fat until it forms a kind of lard mayonnaise. Until yesterday there wasn't one shred of green in this place, so Bond added a salad of frisee -- with lardons.

THE BUTCHER SHOP

Cuisine: Bistro

Address: 552 Tremont Street, Boston (South End)

Phone: 617-617-4800

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