I was describing the Butcher Shop recently to some people who had never been there and I realized that halfway through my story -- no matter how detailed I got -- they wouldn't be able to picture this place. I'll try again: At the entrance, there's a bar on one side and a row of seats along the windows at the other. Yes, it is really a butcher shop in the back, with the finest naturally raised organic meats money can buy. The shop also serves the same little meaty meals it offers at dinner during lunch. At night, when the foot traffic starts along Tremont Street, the 800-square-foot space turns into a neighborhood party. You see, the space really lends itself to partying. There are only a few tables, so mingling is easy, and the large butcher block at the back of the shop, where the meat cutting is done during the day, turns into a dining table at night. Picture a block the length and width of a king-size mattress. There are no seats, so you order and stand while you eat.
The effect is that you think you've stumbled into the city's greatest culinary secret, that you've slipped into an exclusive club.
The six-week-old spot is the latest venture of Barbara Lynch, who has received acclaim as the chef and owner of No. 9 Park on Beacon Hill. With Peter Niemetz's stylish design -- the walls are chalkboard and offer the specials of the day in delightful calligraphy -- and Barcelona native Pep Vicente running the place, the Butcher Shop is incredibly popular. On a busy night, 100 people can come through the place, some stopping to have a glass of wine after putting their name on the list at B&G Oysters Ltd., across the street. Vicente says that some people eat fish first and then come over for some meat ("surf and turf," he explains).
The oyster spot is Lynch's second project. Both oyster and butcher were in the works before the chef found herself pregnant. She's due in February, so running three restaurants couldn't be easy. Her husband, Charles Petri, watches her like a hawk. She spots us standing at the butcher block one night and he wanders over later to sing her praises. That might sound insufferable -- standing for three hours listening to the owner's husband talk about her for half of that time -- but when the visitors agree completely, somehow it's not. Lynch's imagination and culinary ability are admirable.
Vicente pours generous glasses of wine in beautiful Spiegelau glasses, which are large and well-made and feel wonderful in your hand. (This and Lynch's other three wine lists are managed by the talented Cat Silirie.) We break off a piece of the tender Sel de la Terre baguette, inhale Sel's ciabatta, a looser-textured loaf, and wait for our dinner to arrive. Jason Bond is the chef here, and Lauren Resler the pastry chef.
Frisee salad ($10) contains only the pale green curly leaves of this frizzy lettuce, scattered with matchstick-thin haricots verts, and drizzled with a truffle-scented vinaigrette and some hazelnuts. About eight bites in all.
The roasted marrow from beef bones on toast ($6) is a second act in dining in miniature: six slices of bread with a silver-dollar piece of warm marrow on each. There is also coarse sea salt for sprinkling and haricot verts to nibble. Marrow is rich and luscious in the same way that foie gras is. In fact, you shouldn't eat a lot. We would have eaten more.
Tartare ($14) is made from the fresh beef on the premises (it's one of the only places on earth that I would eat raw beef). It comes in a little pot, the ground beef mixed at the last minute, Pep Vicente explains, with a slightly vinegary tomato sauce, cornichon pickles, onions, and capers. This beef melts in the mouth, and it's divine on thin triangles of housemade brioche toasts.
The charcuterie plate ($17, which is easily enough for two) is full of riches, including boned rolled chicken slices, rillettes, pork terrine wrapped in leek leaves, divine foie gras with a sparkling gelee. An irresistible roast beef panini ($9) is made on slices of the Sel de la Terre bread and pressed in a grill so that the meat is hot. Some nights, when it's quite chilly, Lynch makes a big stewy pot, so you might be offered something typical of a French brasserie: a cassoulet, coq au vin, or a choucroute garni, all between $12 and $14.
It's an evening of forbidden fruits, a year's worth of meat and fat in an hour. But we're still hungry. We finish with a platter of cheeses, then ask for a few macaroons. They are tiny airy sandwiches, some chocolate, some almond, that melt on the way down.
Tea comes in cups with lids, which act as teapots (they're more cute than functional). Every glass, cup, and plate is the highest style, and even if your teapot lid falls into the cup and you've been standing eating for three hours, it seems like a small price to pay for feeling like an insider in Boston's hippest corner.