Seasonal salad at Journeyman


Photo: JOEL VEAK

Imagine a couple who are extraordinarily gifted home cooks and love to entertain. Their legendary dinner parties reflect their vast cookbook collection and love of local ingredients. They hone professional-level skills and befriend farmers. Over time, the dinner parties morph into a private supper club; instead of wine, friends contribute cash. One day, the pair chuck their professional careers to follow their bliss, enduring the grueling trial of first-timers opening a new restaurant. Given the industry's brutal economics and failure rate, you'd call them audacious if not crazy. That's the true story behind Journeyman (9 Sanborn Court, Somerville, 617.718.2333), an ambitious, nearly hidden new restaurant in Union Square that serves an ever-changing set menu of three, five, and seven courses ($39, $65, and $85, respectively).

The brightly lit open kitchen draws from multiple traditions: artisanal (notably nose-to-tail thrift), classic (mainly the French and Chinese canons), and molecular. The loft-like dining room boasts spartan furnishings and beautiful tableware. Front-of-house staffers exhibit more earnest amiability than polish, like the sommelier whose infectious zeal for obscure small-producer wines compensates for a lack of glib patter. That they seem more like enthusiastic family members than veteran pros is charming. Tiny service bumps aside, what diners will remember is the inventiveness, beauty, and deliciousness of Journeyman's food, which reflects its chef/owners' joys and passions in myriad details in every course.

A lamb duo beguiles with the slightly gamy, grass-fed flavor of braised shank, shockingly different from tender, mellow slices of pan-charred sous-vide loin. Each benefits differently from the accompanying raisin/caper jam and fierce eggplant curry. Cool, thyme-flecked sweet-corn foam doesn't seem gimmicky, rather a perfect visual and textural yang to the yin of a gorgeous beet risotto topped with buttery chicken mushrooms. The seasonal salad is an exquisite tableau of little bites: a thimbleful of dehydrated onion, one glazed young carrot, and a baby radish and a microtome-thin shaving of a big one; one perfect green bean, creamy cranberry bean, chipotle-smoked tomato, Concord grape, and salty leaf of dehydrated kale; some eggplant puree and a crown of lovage and celeriac greens; all framed by parentheses of tomato foam and zucchini cream. It's a whirlwind tour of this week's farmers' market and a catalog of the chefs' eclectic skills, delivering many resonant flavors with nouvelle lightness. Journeyman's accomplishment is breathtaking and original: serving locally focused, exactingly sourced cuisine of exceptional refinement and technique in a package utterly free of ostentation. That might just be the shape of fine dining to come.

Given Journeyman's ever-changing menu, the salad will appear in a new, seasonally appropriate incarnation by the time this issue hits streets.