88 Wharf: Seasonal Fare with a Focus on Upscale American Cuisine
By Rachel Lebeaux: Set on the banks of the Neponset River in Milton, 88 Wharf opened four-and-a-half years ago on the ground floor of a residential building — but it’s not only residents who have come to realize that this is a restaurant on the rise.
“We’re trying to bring in a younger crowd,” confirmed Eric Buckley, the restaurant’s general manager, on a recent Friday evening. And, on this particular night, it seems, the effort is taking hold: Guests of all ages, including some who looked to be in their 20s and 30s, congregated in the lounge over drinks listening to live, jazzy music, and chatted happily over their meals in the main dining room. And with the expansive, 60-seat patio, overlooking the river and Milton Yacht Club, recently opened for the season, watch out.”
Chef Ryan Escudé, who previously worked at the Inn at Little Washington in Virginia and Centro Restaurant and Lounge in Rhode Island, has been helming the kitchen for nearly six months, and brings with him fresh, seasonal fare focused on upscale American cuisine. The menu is trim, featuring classic preparations steeped in local ingredients — think Caesar and beet salads, calamari and crab cakes, roasted salmon and grilled swordfish, and a variety of steaks and pastas.
Our friendly and attentive waiter, Joe Bergin, started our meal with the complimentary herbed focaccia — fluffy, freshly baked and dipped in olive oil replete with strands of basil and red-pepper flakes — as we perused the drinks menu. There were several wines available by the glass and bottle as well as bottled beers, but my eye inched toward the cocktail menu, eventually settling on the Dirty Blue Goose martini ($10), Grey Goose vodka, olive juice and three blue cheese-stuffed green olives lined up on a stirrer — but, the menu assured, it was “extra shaken,” not stirred. Assertive and briny, it was a substantial drink that stood up well to the meal that followed.
That meal got underway with an order of the wild mushroom arancini ($12). Seven golden-fried rice balls, each about the size of a ping-pong ball, boasted a crispy exterior that gave way to a wonderfully earthy, creamy base inside. They rested in a bed of truffle aioli — too mayonnaise-heavy a match, really, for the comparatively light arancini, but the flavors lined up nicely, and the showers of shaved Grana Padano cheese and arugula were a welcome complement.
The rigatoni ($21), enveloped in a tender beef- and pork-based Bolognese, was the ultimate Italian comfort food (and the tender-loving care was further evident in the restaurant’s willingness to separate the course into two dishes for us). The robust red sauce, clinging to the rigatoni and crested with more shaved Grana Padano cheese, was hearty, meaty and just a touch tangy — certainly a highlight of the meal.
For our entrée, we went with a special that evening, pan-seared duck in a truffle demi-reduction, which the restaurant again separated onto two plates for sharing. The zesty, fatty skin hit all the right flavor notes, and the duck meat itself was succulent and well spiced. The accompanying farro salad, spliced with bright mint and red onion, was sharp and peppery, the healthful, nutty grain offering a texture that practically popped in our mouths. A tuft of fresh greens, dressed more heavily than necessary, rounded out the course.
Dessert was comparatively simple: ice cream and profiteroles ($7). The airy, hollow puffs, drizzled in chocolate and caramel sauce, were filled with premium vanilla ice cream and crowned with a majestic dollop of freshly whipped cream and a sprig of mint. We appreciated both the flavors and the lightness of the dessert, which left us feeling satiated, rather than stuffed, at the end of the meal.
Assessment: If you haven’t yet visited 88 Wharf — or if you have, but not since Escudé took over the kitchen — I’d urge you to give it a shot, especially as the spring/summer menu emerges and the patio opens for the warmer seasons. The restaurant’s efforts to appeal to a more varied crowd translate to live music in the lounge, $1 oyster nights and other such enticements, and the kitchen’s sure take on classic American preparations makes for a comfortable, yet elegant, night out.
Address: 88 Wharf Street, Milton, MA 02186
Price: Appetizers $8-$14; entrees $18-$34; desserts $7-$10
Hours: September-May: Tues.-Sun.: Open at 4pm; closed Mon. June-August: Open daily at 4pm.
Features: Outdoor patio, full bar, live music, $1 oysters Wednesday in the lounge, private functions.
Recommendations: Dirty Blue Goose martini, wild mushroom arancini, rigatoni and Bolognese, duck and farro salad, ice cream and profiteroles.
Parking: Parking lot, valet. On the T: Red Line to Milton Station.
Payment Options: Major credit cards
Tagged $1 oyster nights, 60-seat patio, 88 Wharf, American cuisine, arancini, bar, Beer and Wine, Chef Ryan Escudé, dessert, Dirty Blue Goose martini, Eric Buckley, herbed focaccia, ice cream and profiteroles, jazz music, live music, lounge, Milton, outdoor dining, pan-seared duck, Rachel Lebeaux, Restaurant Review, rigatoni, rigatoni and Bolognese, TableCritic Inc, truffle