Sometimes you can learn more about a restaurant when things go wrong than when everything is perfect. During a visit to The Bancroft — a popular new upscale steak house in the 3rd Ave shopping center in Burlington, a town that is fast becoming a food mecca — the unthinkable occurred. They messed up my steak.
It looked ravishing, but when they gave me the knife — that kind that’s also suitable for most hand-to-hand combat situations — I immediately knew something was wrong. I had trouble sawing through the top crust. The steak obviously was not medium-rare as requested. This is a diner’s nightmare. Do you send it back? Will your server disagree? Are you just too darned fussy?
Truth to tell, I looked forward to how this would all play out. I called our waiter, who was efficient and friendly, but not too chatty. He viewed the evidence. “Does this look more medium than medium-rare?” I asked. “Actually, sir, it looks like it’s more medium-well,” he said. How refreshing. An honest appraisal. I asked for a new steak, and he whisked it away without another word. He was back in an instant. “The chef agrees and apologizes. What can I bring you while you wait?” he asked.
“Oh, nothing,” I said. That’s right, I intentionally played the martyr to see what would happen. He quickly returned with a large cup of clam chowder with a hint of smoked bacon ($10), an item I had contemplated ordering. “At least sample this while you’re waiting,” he suggested.
So I did, and it was terrific: rich and fully flavored, close to traditional, but just playful enough to make it unique in a good way. Then, quicker than I thought possible, my “new” steak appeared in the hands of one of the managers. She made it clear, nicely, that she wasn’t leaving until she knew I was satisfied with my replacement.
This time, the steak was perfect. And the knife sliced through it like butter. It was everything a dedicated carnivore would expect when paying high-end prices in a dedicated steak house.
The moral to the story: They’re serious about quality and service at The Bancroft, and the eye to detail they showed when something went wrong was consistent with the high standards we encountered throughout the rest of our meal.
That steak was a 28-day prime aged rib eye, and at $47, it’s not even the most expensive piece of beef on the menu. But stray from red meat, and there is still plenty to please the palate. The pan-roasted cod with razor clams ($36), for example, was light and delicate, quickly addictive, and filled with a subtle mix of flavors.
Prosciutto with fig preserve, served with arugula and garlic ciabatta ($15), was an enticing starter platter. The saltiness of the ham mixed well with the fig preserve, a satisfying contrast of tastes and textures. The jumbo lump crabcake ($17) was big, indeed, and had little in the way of filler. This was mostly crab … fresh crab … served with a remoulade, avocado and plantain. It was exceptional.
Call the atmosphere a sort of “warehouse chic,” with high ceilings and plenty of glass and dark wood. There is an extensive wine “attic” instead of a cellar, and any ideas about the spot looking a tad too traditional are quickly deflated by a couple of chandeliers right out of an episode of “The Jetsons.” I suspect the bar/lounge area is already a popular haunt, and it should be.
Remember when denizens of the Merrimack Valley had to “settle” when they wanted a high-end meal outside of Boston? Those days are long gone. The Bancroft is an excellent example.
The Bancroft: Burlington, Mass. / (781) 221-2100 / The-Bancroft.com
Hours: Lunch/Sunday Brunch: 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Dinner: Daily, 5 p.m. to 11 p.m.
Reservations accepted by phone and online.
Photos by Harkins Photography.