Review Date: 02/01/16
Visit Dates: (10/17/15) (12/21/15) (01/05/16) (01/24/16)
You don't find too many of them in the suburbs, but Red Raven is that rare gastropub, at least in name and ambition. They're also really big on establishing relationships with local farmers and bakers to truly live up to the farm to table ideal so many talk about but few actually execute.
Although atmosphere takes an immediate hit from some by virtue of its location across the parking lot from a small strip mall, Red Raven makes up for that with an inviting space that combines an attractive bar, high ceilings, balconies and a view overlooking the water.
I'd heard rumblings about Red Raven's burgers, which are available in three different configurations at lunch; at night it's the single Quoth burger ($14): black pepper brioche, tomato jam, arugula, cheddar, pickled onion and cucumber salad.
After trying the ribs—yes, smoked—on a dinner visit with Young Bride, I went back solo and targeted the Quoth burger on a lunch visit.
A large black pepper brioche—not from Iggy's, but a local bakery in Concord—handles its task admirably, holding the avalanche of contents together while delivering a hint of flavor from the dough and a hint of richness from the buttered/toasted inner surfaces. It's sturdy, flexible and light all at the same time.
The menu doesn't boast of any fancy blends and the flavor of the beef doesn't suggest it, but the quantity and flow of the juices bursting out of the ruby colored cross-section were impressive. Ditto the gentle texture. The exterior was a little less impressive, with only a token crust but pleasingly assertive seasoning. If they didn't nail the requested medium rare both times, they came awfully close. Good feel all around.
Here's where people are going to love or hate this burger; as usual, I'm on both sides of the fence.
On the first visit, pickled onions provided an attention-getting jolt of vinegar. Tomato jam was brown and intensely sweet, almost like figs. Cheddar rarely stands out on burgers for me, but did so here, probably because its tang (more similar to Swiss than your typical cheddar) contrasted so sharply with the other flavors. Arugula added some color, some texture in a way that lettuce can't, and flavorwise just nudged the other players along. House cured bacon, optional at a three dollar surcharge, was pound for pound the most flavorful of the toppings, but so thin that only the pieces broken off for sampling got appreciated. All of the toppings were delicious and worked really well with each other. I'm just not so sure they worked well with the beef, which got a little overwhelmed by the sweetness and tartness. Also overwhelming—well, at least distracting—was that the tomato jam and onions brought frigid temperatures that clashed with the warmness of the beef.
Some reviewers would make a snap judgment on the spot, but I suspected a night visit might reap better results, so I headed back a month later for dinner. This time I skipped the bacon. Cheese was about the same. But sure enough, the rest of the toppings on the night and day visits were as different as night and day. On the second go-round, the arugula was more voluminous, which I actually liked. The onions, now brought all the way up to room temperature, were less acidic and less plentiful, dropped mostly on one side of the bun. The tomato jam had that same strong figgy flavor, but in a slightly smaller footprint and fully up to room temperature as well. All things considered, an improvement that let the beef shine brighter while achieving a more harmonious overall package.
I'm not so sure these were hand cut, but the fries pleased on both tries: warm, crisp and seasoned aggressively with pepper as well as salt. Nothing to write home about, but solid.
Wings: Tried on the third and fourth visits, with the Korean option both times, the wings succeeded in delivering an enjoyable sauce (sweet, Asian, not as spicy as the menu would have you believe) that elevated the chickeny flavor instead of sinking it. Crispness and inner tenderness were both fully in play, and the pool of extra sauce at the bottom was there if I needed it. Solid rendition both times.
Babyback Ribs: Tried on the first visit, these were heavily sauced and smoked but not smoky, with a beyond-tender "falling off the bone" texture that's either a plus or a minus, depending on personal preference. I thought they were mushy, so they didn't work for me, but your mileage may vary. The herby potato cake on the side was a highlight.
Mediterranean Platter: Also tried on the first visit, this arrangement of house-made dips (hummus, creamy/spicy feta and olive tapenade) for spreading on toasted pita was a big hit. All of the dips were great, but let me say this: olive tapenade, here or anywhere, might be the single most underrated food item in America.
Fig & Apple Flatbread: A small sample of this reminded me of the Quoth Burger's toppings, especially with the same arugula. Creamy goat cheese was a plus. Rubbery crust was a minus.
The Bottom Line
Take a quick scan at the burger run-down above and it's obvious that the Quoth Burger is a topings-driven model, with the arugula, tomato jam and tart onions perhaps not revolutionary, but out of the ordinary anywhere, never mind the 'burbs. I give credit for the design and for the execution on the second try, so it's a burger I'd recommend to anyone who's into interesting burger toppings. For the beef-focused set, my endorsement isn't as strong (read: don't make a special trip), but Red Raven does a very nice job handling and cooking it.
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