What did I finally do? I dined at The Blue Ox in Lynn, which describes itself as "an upscale casual neighborhood restaurant" that "offers an approachable American menu."
The Blue Ox, which opened in 2009, is owned by Chef Matt O'Neil, a Swampscott native, who graduated from the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York. He has previously worked at such restaurants as Prezza and No. 9 Park, and eventually decided to strike out on his own and open his own restaurant. The Blue Ox has received lots of positive press, and I know a number of people who have dined there and raved about their experiences. Most recently, Chef O'Neil and the team at the Blue Ox were the 2014 Champions of Boston Magazine's Battle of the Burger, and had also been the 2013 Champions. When I dined there a couple weeks ago, I realized what I have been missing for the past five years.
The Beverage Director, Charles Gaeta, has created an interesting drinks list, including wine, beer, and craft cocktails. The wine list has about 16 wines by the glass ($8-$13), and the bottle list has plenty of diversity and many bottles under $50. There are some lower mark-ups on wines over $50 and wine lovers should appreciate the variety of wines that are available. There are plenty of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Cabernet Sauvignon choices, but you will also find wines made from Peccorino, Assyrtiko, Muller-Thurgau, Zweigelt, and Kadarka. If you need a recommendation, Charles will help you select a wine to accompany your dinner. There are about 30 beers available ($3.50-$15), 6 on draft, with plenty of local choices
Their cocktail list is intriguing and definitely a compelling reason to check out the restaurant. They have about 16 House Cocktails (reasonably priced at $11 each), broken down into four groups. First, there are Locally Distilled which are all cocktails using spirits distilled in Massachusetts. A great way to support some worthy local companies. Second, there are the Wonders of the Agave Plant, cocktails using Tequila or Mezcal. Third, there are a couple Classic cocktails, onto which the restaurant has put their own spin. Finally, they have a couple Barrel-Aged cocktails. With all of these choices, I knew I needed to check out several of the cocktails.
Maitland Mountain Farm Pickles ($9), with grilled lemon & thyme aioli and aged balsamic. When fried pickles are done well, they can be delicious, but far too often they end up as limp and soggy. So, it would be a good test of the kitchen to see whether these fried pickles were worthy or not, and they passed with flying colors. Maitland Mountain Farm is an organic, urban farm in Salem, MA, well known for their pickles. The fried pickles had a tasty, clean and crunchy coating over a crisp and flavorful pickle. A nice way to begin our dinner.
Charles, the Beverage Director, recommended a California Zinfandel with the duck. Though a number of people recommend this same pairing, I have often found Zinfandel to be too big and tannic for duck but I was willing to take Charles' recommendation. The 2009 Canard Vineyard Zinfandel ($75/bottle) was excellent, and worked very well with the duck. It was smooth, with restrained tannins, nice black fruit flavors and spicy accents. It isn't your typical Zinfandel and Charles was dead on in his pairing suggestion. And as the Canard generally retails for $45, the wine has a low markup as well, making it a good value too.
Our server, Matthew, did an excellent job and I have spoken to others who have been served by Matthew and also raved about his performance. The food and drinks are excellent, and I like the neighborhood vibe of the restaurant. I know understand why so many people have recommended this place to me, and I will be sure to return soon. I have absolutely no excuse now. I give The Blue Ox my hearty recommendation.
Have you dined at The Blue Ox? What are your thoughts?
(Disclaimer: I received a media comp for this dinner. Please be advised I was under no obligation to actually review this restaurant and if I chose to review it, I was under no obligation to say anything specific, whether positive or negative, about my experience. All of this content was solely at my discretion. I will be returning to the restaurant soon, on my own dime, and will definitely report back on any differences I encounter.)