Liberty Tavern

Contemporary comfort cooking that celebrates local ingredients.

From Kliman Online’s “Word of Mouth”

The Liberty Tavern represents a welcome trend. Not the explosion of suburban chic — which has resulted of late in a host of hotspots where you can enjoy overpriced cocktails and discomfitingly ambitious cooking without having to worry about getting panhandled on your way out. The Clarendon newcomer is handsome and stylish, to be sure, but what makes it intriguing is its canny fusing of two seemingly opposed ideologies: comfort food and eating locally and regionally.

There are nine cheeses on the cheese plate, but among the usual assortment of familiar names is a goat cheese — a Buche Noir — from Firefly Farms, in Maryland. The roast chicken comes from Amish country, and it shows; it's a deliciously juicy bird — and a chicken that tastes like chicken. For the Amish, of course, locally sourced comfort food is … well, food. The fact that it feels like the drift toward something new should tell you that our restaurants have been missing out on a good thing for a long, long time.

The chef, Liam LaCivita, has sought to honor these long-ago traditions. Included in the bread basket is Anadama bread, made with molasses and cornmeal — a staple in many cookbooks of yore. The cap for a wonderfully satisfying, saffron-flavored chicken pot pie is a big, baking powder biscuit.

Even those dishes that are meant to feel clean, light and contemporary, like an Arctic Char with pesto, white beans, braised fennel and heirloom tomatoes, benefit by context; they come across as even more humble and straightforward than they really are.

Places that try their hand at pizza without fully committing to it — which is to say, making pizza their primary mission — typically whiff. But these are good, solid pies, distinguished by crisp, bubbly crusts and good toppings; a version that combines juicy, ripe figs, salty prosciutto and creamy fontina cheese is terrific.

Oversalting is a problem in a number of dishes — among them, the mussels, which, with just a touch more vigilance, would be excellent. The  smoked tomato broth is rich and complex, helped along by a generous dusting of fennel pollen.

Desserts aren't as on-message as I'd counted on. I'd expected a simple, no-frills showcase for first-rate ingredients; instead, I found cutesiness and muddled flavors.

The best way to close out the meal? A French press pot of Ambessa, a rich, mellow Ethiopian coffee.

Local? Not hardly. But comforting? Oh, yes. It's a smart, thoughtful touch, one of many.

-August 28, 2007