photo by Johanna Bobrow

Journeyman’s become known for artful and eccentric tasting menus: a stream of small plates with food that is not just tasty but also challenging and beautiful. On Saturdays, alongside the Union Square Farmers Market, we’re going to change that.

Last Saturday was the first of our Saturday BBQs, aimed at adding another layer of delicious fun to the Market that already boasts some of our favorite farmers, musicians, festivals, artists, and workshops. The food’s made by our line cook, Dan Hanken. Dan is a frisbee player, cellist, and – we discovered after hiring him – a smoked meat aficionado. For our first week of serious BBQ, he rolled out house-made sausages, dry-rubbed veal ribs, brined chickens, pulled pork, and sliced brisket. We also started out with a few Market-sourced sides: sweet pickles, cornbread, grilled asparagus, and dirty rice, along with two kinds of baked beans.

photo by Johanna Bobrow

As the summer plows on, we’ll add more to that menu, including some vegetarian options and more vegetables from the market. You can round out your meal with soda or iced tea, and eat in Stone Place Park right behind us or carry it away to wherever you like. Next week we’re hoping for sunshine, but even if it rains, we’ll be out with our grills having a grand time. We hope you can stop by & see us!

photo by Johanna Bobrow

Journeyman BBQ, in conjunction with the Union Square Farmers Market: every Saturday in summer, 11am until 2pm (unless we run out of food first!)

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Mother's Day Brunch (at dinner time)

We know the traditional way to celebrate mom on Mother’s Day is to take her out to brunch. We also know that breakfast foods are more fun at night (as evidenced by the “breakfast all day” sign in so many of the best diners). In honor of these two truths and of mom, Journeyman is pleased to present our 5 course Mother’s Day Brunch-for-Dinner menu.

Our five course dinner will cover our favorite brunch classics — in reinvented form, of course — and have a few other surprises, as well.

with a side of sausage

Eggs Florentine
with salmon and duck egg

Bacon + Hash
with ketchup

with granola and fruit

Assorted Bagels
with cream cheese

Breakfast will be available from 5:30pm-10:oopm Sunday May 8th and Monday May 9th, and you’ll be able to round out your mother’s day meal with a few breakfast-inspired cocktails (we’re playing with the classics here, too, look for our takes on the mimosa and bloody mary, among other great options).

Reserve online or call 617.718.2333.

Please note that we will not be serving our regular menus for these two nights, just the five course brunch.
We apologize that there will be no 3 or 7 course options, no vegetarian menus, and no substitutions.

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Employees Must Wash Hands

There is so much that must be said when running a restaurant, from the infinitely variable interchanges with guests to the more precise notifications legally required:

Please note

Please Note

“Please inform the waitstaff before ordering if you have a food allergy”

“Warning: consuming raw or undercooked meat, poultry, seafood, shellfish or eggs increases your risk of foodborne illness”

“Starred items may be served raw or undercooked”

“Employees must wash hands before returning to work”

Before opening, we ran a facebook challenge to our friends and fans to generate haiku versions of the “employees must wash hands” warning, and our wonderful graphic designer laid out the menu warnings as if they were an e. e. cummings poem for our menu.

Our long-format menu faded away as the chefs changed the menu so often that cutting and assembling a new booklet for each menu was driving servers into madness and misery, but our bathroom haiku are still there. The haiku still rotate whenever I remember that someone coming in to dine wrote one for us. For all the jokes about having someone’s name on the bathroom wall, it really is fun to have people see their words up there, and now and again someone leaves us a haiku on their check. Some of our favorites have been:

Cascading water
Over your hands – so calming,
So mandatory.
-Mindy Klenoff

Employees wash hands.
What a pleasant thought that is.
And also the law.
-Georg Lauer

Workers, wash your hands!
Release your stained, dirty past
And begin anew.
-Susan Crandall

Charm friends and lovers,
while following the health code.
Washing hands does both.
-Kevin Clark

Worker, joblessness
Is disharmonious, so
Wash hands with gladness.
-Alice Gorel

There are so many things to be said when running a restaurant, and having new voices is always welcome. This blog has been quiet for a while as I’ve worked on other things at Journeyman, but in the coming weeks, I hope to start having more staff members writing posts. If you want your name on the Journeyman walls, you can always write us a haiku or send in a question you’d like answered. The questions will be posted here, and the poetry will rotate across our bathroom walls.

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Wine Stains 4/25/11: Highs + Lows with Mr. Hill

Please join Seth Hill of Alchemy Wine and the staff of Journeyman on Monday April 25 at our second installment of Wine Stains, a monthly wine dinner where the drinks get all the attention. Seating, at communal tables, is available at 6:00, 7:00, and 8:00pm.

This time, we’ve paired the pairings; each course will be served alongside at least two drinks! We’ll start with a flight of some our favorite vermouth-style aperitifs, compare two Belgian-style sour beers, challenge the norm with a red wine that drinks like a white + a white wine that acts like a red, then compare two wildly different Cabernet Francs, and end with two of our favorite sparkling wines for spring.

$85 for 4 courses with multiple beverages paired with each course.

Assorted small bites

Flight of Vermouths
Sutton Cellars Brown Label Vermouth (USA), Cocchi Americano Aperitivo (Italy), Dolin Blanc Vermouth(France)

Wheatberry Risotto
bone marrow, herbs, pea tendrils

Sour-style beers
Panil “Bariquee” & Cantillon “Bruocsella 1900 Grand Cru”

Spanish Mackerel
Potato, Tarragon

Category-foiling wines
Frères Grosjean “Premetta” & Heidi Schröck “Furmint”

Pork Knuckles
Parsnip, Radish, Greens

Cabernet Francs from the Loire
Clos Rougeard “Les Poyeux” Saumur-Champigny & Domaine de la Pepiere “La Pepie”

Treacle, Raspberry

Lesser-known sparklers
Camillo Donati Malvasia Dolce & Patrick Bottex Bugey-Cerdon

Assorted Mignardises
Coffee or Tea

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Wine Stains, March 7: Storied Wines

Our first dinner is upon us, and the menu has been settled. We are looking forward to a house full of friends tonight, not to mention delicious wines and foods.
As promised, here’s the full menu:

Rabbit Confit Tortellino
Eric Bordelet “Poiré Authentique”
sparkling perry; Normandy, France

Early Spring Salad
Ariana Occhipinti “SP68 Bianco”
2009; Zibbibo/Albanello blend; Sicily, Italy

ham, egg, hawaj

Domaine Belliviere “Les Giroflées”
2009; Pineau d’Aunis/Grolleau blend; Loire Valley, France

Pork Belly
pommes boulangere, sauerkraut

Massa Vecchia “Rosato”
2006; Malvasia Nera/Merlot field blend; Tuscany, Italy

sweet potato, apple

Heidi Schröck “On the Wings of Dawn”
2006; Ruster Ausbruch; blend; Huggeland, Austria

Assorted Chocolates
made by Elaine Hsieh with single varietal ganaches from Michel Cluizel
Trio of Barolo Chinati
Cappellano Barolo Chinato; Roagna Barolo Chinato; Cocchi Barolo Chinato

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Digesting the reviews

While restaurants thrive on the big newspaper reviews that get laminated and hung on walls and we’ve gotten our fair share (see our press page for a summary of them), we read all the reviews we can find, especially citizen reviews. We look for write-ups on personal blogs, micro-reviews on twitter and facebook, and of course for reviews written on the behemoths of consumer reviews like CitySearch, Yelp, Chowhound, and UrbanSpoon. What happens with each table is of immediate concern to us, repeat customers and happy customers are what make us succeed.

The commentary has ranged from bombastic praise to pure disgust. This is, in many ways, unsurprising; who takes the time to write a review that says “it was OK?” It seems most likely that people take the time us because they feel strongly. We understand and appreciate that, and we try to read reviews with the understanding that what we’re seeing represents the extremes of people’s opinions about us. These daily reviews are what prompt most of the changes we’ve enacted since opening: how we describe dishes, what we say about the restaurant to first-time guests, how we represent ourselves in social media, and more. Those reviews are the bread and butter of our viability, but that doesn’t seem to fully replace the power of the BIG REVIEW.

Tse Wei has written a bit about our response to our first big review in the Boston Globe on the Public Radio Kitchen blog (available here), but from my perspective in the dining room, there was more to it than that. Our first big review felt like prognostication, Devra First came to our restaurant at least three times, and she had the ability to scry our future in the sauce smears left on her plate and the dregs of drinks delivered to her by our servers. A professional restaurant reviewer knows the business of restaurants, the palates of diners, and the fates of many more restaurants than the one currently in her sights; what she says about a restaurant may well be based on intangibles that no one else could see.

I had a rare chance to eat at my own restaurant on Friday night; due to my graceless attempt to run for a bus on icy ground, I couldn’t walk well enough to serve and host, but I didn’t want to leave my staff in the lurch either. The solution was to sit at the bar and eat and drink, ready to answer their questions, and ready to test them with bizarre requests and tough demands. I’d like to think that I, too, had a chance to see intangibles that no one else might, and since I’ve never seen a business owner review their own business, I thought I’d try. There are some flaws here — I’m biased, I’m reviewing off my own personal ideal rather than a deep knowledge of the Boston restaurant scene, and of course I’m posting it to our own blog rather than to a third party website — but caveats aside, here goes.

Dinner starts slowly at Journeyman: you’re seated, your coat is hung, your water is poured, your menus arrive, and then, you stare at the menus. Devra First is right, you have to start suspending your expectations early here, because the menu is not a well-lit, carefully-worded script for the night. There are no markers of origin for ingredients, no names of dishes, and no indication of preparation technique, only a listing of a few ingredients in each course. On those stark words alone, you’re expected to choose your plan for the evening (vegetarian or omnivore, seven courses, or three or five). Servers, when asked about the menu, will describe the dishes for you but sometimes what they say doesn’t prepare you for what arrives; sardines with horseradish and scallion doesn’t indicate anything about the cubes of horseradish jelly, the salad of hard-boiled egg and scallion, or the finely grated radish atop the fish, but that’s what I pay for when I go out. I go out to eat foods that I wouldn’t or couldn’t make. I pay extra for the inspiration, love, and art that goes into those dishes.

Drinking is almost as hard at Journeyman as the eating, the standard cocktail requires a myriad of choices and the wines by the glass aren’t always the most familiar or approachable: nothing gets in the door of the restaurant without a story, nothing floats effortlessly to your side, and that can be rough. I asked my server for a cocktail with gin and I got a series of questions about what other flavors I like, what I was eating, how sweet I wanted my drink, and if I minded if she conferred with a colleague. Her colleague turned out to be the kitchen, and when my drink arrived 10 minutes later, she told me it should accompany my next dish.

The kitchen is perhaps the most remarkable part of Journeyman, a nearly silent team turns out plate after plate of food and even with my eye trained on the dining room, I have no idea how they keep the pace they do: tables receive food every 15-20 minutes quite consistently, and while I know what the servers do to facilitate that easy-feeling pace in the dining room, the chefs seem to have a myriad checklists in their heads, each dish must get 5+ elements, each table must get 5+ plates, each cook must plate innumerable things each night. I’m used to talking to them through the pass to say that a guest at table 12 isn’t eating much, or to ask if I can get an extra dish of some sauce or element for the guests at table 3 to try, but watching them for the several hours I am eating is surreal. There are no visible emotions, just calm and measured perpetual motion. I find myself speaking with a hushed voice, like I would in a library or museum, as if I am dwarfed or humbled by the concentration I can sense all around me.

My server’s silly jibe about a clean plate (“oh, did we forget to put any food on that plate?” as she clears a course) punctures the reverence and reminds me that I am here to enjoy myself, even as I point my employees toward tables that need more bread or water, or answer questions about how to pronounce the name of of an Austrian grape (Zweigelt, or schvai-gelt, roughly). Their relaxed and cheerful demeanor makes it easier to break the spell of intensity cast by the kitchen, and easier to appreciate what’s bare and stripped clean at Journeyman: there’s no diversion here, no centerpieces, no tablecloths, no silver pitchers pouring water into each glass, just food and drink and guest and staff.

I finish my courses by mopping the plates with bread or surreptitiously smearing my finger through the dregs of the sauce, behavior I’d be embarrassed to indulge in if I hadn’t been encouraged by the chefs, by my server, and by my tongue, clamoring for one last taste of yuzu jelly, walnut terrine, and foie gras. Guests at another table nearby catch me licking my fingers and grin & wink at me, I feel like we’re all in this together.

By the time I’ve finished my meal, I know the names of the next table’s inhabitants, and that they’re at Journeyman celebrating a birthday. I know more about them than I’d expect, given the distance between our seats, but the atmosphere here seems to invite collegial cross-table chatter. On a night when I was working, I watched two tables who didn’t know each other broker a deal to split a bottle of dessert wine that they’d both been thinking about and had ruled out as too steep an expense. Devra First is, again, right, the feel is dinner party-ish, where guests mingle and meet. To me, though, that doesn’t mean amateurishness, it means that Journeyman encourages breaking a classic fourth wall of dining, the expectation of privacy. The only other restaurant at which that has ever happened to me was Grant Achatz’s temple to leisurely exploratory meals, Alinea. On the night of my 30th birthday dinner, the table next to my companion and I at Alinea traded sips of drinks, took each others’ pictures, and even traded email addresses at the end of the night; that was a big plus, even though our goal had been to be celebrating together, just the two of us.

Jumping from an a la carte menu and a “how would you like your steak prepared” restaurant to ours takes courage, for even for the adventurous, and I’ve asked my servers to respect that. So far we’ve found that being friendly, casual — and yes, unpolished — is what seems to make most of our guests most comfortable. At its best, I hope that our restaurant invites strong response, the need for communication, and an exuberant interest and involvement that almost begs ineraction. We’re never going to be a posh and sumptuous establishment, we can’t — it doesn’t suit our location, our passions, or our personalities. The closest comparison to our price points and to our attention to detail is, certainly, fine dining, but that doesn’t mean we have to fit into that model. We don’t see that as hubris, we see it as a simple acknowledgment: we can’t do that, but we can do this.

What it comes down to, for me, is that eating is a social activity: we base our holidays around meals, we socialize by eating and drinking together, and we go out to eat to see, to be seen, and to taste someone else’s food. There is nothing, to me, private about eating out: there’s intimacy, and there’s dyadic personal relationships, but at its heart, eating out is just that, out. I don’t mean to go into an anthropological treatise on performance and public space and food, but I do mean to state that my biggest disagreement with Devra First’s review is that she seems put off by the fact that I have asked my servers to be themselves. They are not there as actors or to keep each guests from walking up to the kitchen to ask for their food, but as humans who want to take care of each guest and help create an environment in which dining companions shouldn’t have to whisper sotte voce to each other about their hunger or their frustration. I wonder how differently Ms. First’s devastating five course meal would have been if she’d asked her server to speed up the pace or to bring them additional food.

I am thrilled to work at a restaurant that believes that eating is social, and that allows for interpersonal relationships to exist in ways that feel natural and leisurely to me, rather than formalized and structured. It may not be for everyone, but it is certainly for me. My biggest regret about working for and at Journeyman is that I cannot eat there more often.

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A Few Frequently Asked Questions & Their Answers

Do you take credit cards?

Yes! Every major type is accepted at Journeyman, though you’re still welcome to pay in cash.

Do you have gift certificates?

Yes! Our gift certificates can be purchased in person or over the phone (we’ll mail you the certificate). You can give a gift certificate with a dollar amount or by the experience you’d like your recipient to have (3, 5, or 7 courses, with or without wine pairings).

Can I reserve seats overlooking the kitchen?

Yes! We have a few tables that can see into the kitchen well, and we also have a counter overlooking the kitchen, the seating for which is generally first come, first serve (though you can request it when you make a reservation).

Do you host private parties?/Do you cater private events?

We do host parties, though we do not cater off-premises. Please email Meg to inquire about scheduling, pricing, and menu, or to see photos of past private events.

Are you open on Christmas Eve/Christmas? New Year’s Eve/New Year’s Day? Valentine’s Day?

We will be open Christmas Eve for a small, intimate meal. Email us for a reservation. We will be open on Valentine’s Day as well, serving a special menu. More details will be posted closer to the date.

We will not be open for Christmas Day, New Year’s Eve, or New Year’s Day.

Do you have a dress code?

No. We are a low-key restaurant, and people have been equally comfortable in shorts and t-shirts as they have been in formal wear.

Do you serve vegan meals?

Not with any regularity. We do our absolute best to accommodate dietary restrictions whenever possible, and offer full vegetarian meals every night of the week, but we have found that offering a vegan menu requires completely different sets of ingredients and mises en place, for which we have little storage space on a daily basis. On special occasions (two so far) we have offered vegan meals, and we will do so again in the spring, when new veggies start flooding the markets again. Please watch our events page for announcements about vegan menu nights.

Do you have a bar?/Can I bring my own bottle of wine?

We are decidedly not a BYO establishment. We have a full liquor license, and have a wide range of wines and beers available every night, as well as a selection of apperitivi and digestivi and a limited cocktail menu.

How often does the menu change?

We officially change the menu every week. That over-simplifies the process, which is in fact a more organic evolution. Some dishes change slightly in execution every night that we serve them, variations on some dishes live on the menu for a few weeks, and some nights we have some special cut of meat, fresh seafood, mushroom, or vegetable that we want to feature, even if we don’t have enough to put it on the menu.

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Changing of the Guard

Journeyman has hired new blood. With two new servers and two new cooks, we have the flexibility to start evolving our restaurant further: distinct prep and service shifts in the kitchen, nights off for waitstaff, and for 2011, a sixth night of service.

As we’ve trained our new staff we’ve noticed how much our opening team has coalesced over the last few months — from stepping on each other’s toes in the first weeks to reading each other’s minds, almost — and we’ve also had a chance to look critically at what we hoped our restaurant would be and where it is now. In some key ways, we’re doing exactly what we hoped, and it many ways, we’ve either changed our minds or not reached our goals yet. It’s been a perfect time to sit with some of the feedback and reviews we’ve received and think long and hard about what comes next. We were told it’d be at least 100 days before we were a real restaurant, and if you count nights of service, we’re not nearly there yet, but if you could days of work, we are. Our response to reviews and feedback might come in a separate post, but we wanted to say that we’re reading everything we can about how people are faring at Journeyman and listening carefully.

To that end, we’d like to solicit your feedback more directly: if you’ve dined at Journeyman recently and wanted to tell us something about the experience, or if you have an opinion about what night should be our sixth (Monday or Tuesday), please let us know.

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We have reservations

Mark Pastore of San Francisco’s Incanto, upon being asked the question “Why aren’t you on OpenTable?” enough times, wrote an Incante letter that reframes the question to ask “Is OpenTable worth it?”

We have had both of those questions in the forefront of our minds for many months now, and the answers we’ve generated have been similar to Mark’s. Certainly, he answers the original question succinctly, explaining to guests that the feature they think is most central to OpenTable’s appeal (the convenience and ease of online reservations), can be achieved in many ways; but more importantly, he says something truly resonant about OpenTable becoming a middleman between diner and restaurant as the social price of that convenience. This latter piece is where we find the most traction for ourselves.

Perhaps the high cost of doing business with OpenTable merely reflects a harsh reality for which restaurateurs have no one to blame but themselves: the truth that by permitting a third party to own and control access to the customer database, restaurants have unwittingly paid while giving away one of the crown jewels of their business, their customers.

What makes OpenTable a successful business is precisely what makes it hard for us, as restaurateurs, to buy into: it offers one-stop shopping that focuses on the relationship between the diner and the middleman, rather than the relationship between the diner and the restaurant. Everything we do relies on our guests being willing to trust us, and we try to build that trust not only by providing the best experience we can, which starts long before the guest arrives for dinner. More often than not, this approach to our customer relationships means removing the usual intermediaries – journalists, advertising agencies, public relations professionals, and certainly OpenTable.

The other thing about being a small restaurant, which Mark also acknowledges, is that our profit margin is slim. The cost of OpenTable for a place as small as we are isn’t just high, it’s unapproachable. OpenTable’s model is antagonistic to the way we’ve managed ourselves so far — by trying to join the community around Somerville and Cambridge, by trying to participate in the social media that our customers use daily, by trying to be as creative and thoughtful with our offerings as we can — because it doesn’t allow for the same diversity of approach that we’ve used elsewhere. The cost would force us to divert all our resources in a single direction.

The beauty of the Web is that we can have a complete website with a reservation widget, as well as a presence in many places including local services — UrbanSpoon, Yelp, CitySearch, etc. — that provide the intangibles of OpenTable, like reviews, price points, sample menus, and contact information, for free. Rather than pay for OpenTable, TV commercials, or newspaper ads, we can invest in taking note of the feedback we find all over the Web, and we can promote ourselves in ways that we think reach the people most interested in what we have to offer, and we can do all of that without relying on the captive audiences of a specific channel’s news show or OpenTable’s prime customers.

We live in the Golden Age of Google, in which Web-based services have transformed many consumer and business functions by making them easier, more accessible, and drastically less expensive. That’s ultimately the most perplexing thing about OpenTable: unlike so many other Web services, this one has actually driven up operating costs, not reduced them.

We regret that OpenTable has the costs it does, because Mark is right: it is a brilliantly conceived and executed service, and it has a lion’s share of the good restaurants in the country with whom we’d love to be associated. All in all, we’d rather hear your voice on the phone, or know that you were able to make a reservation after reading our website, than know that an anonymous person can find a free table at our restaurant in between the free tables at 20 other local restaurants. We don’t see ourselves as sitting in between 20 other local restaurants, we see ourselves sitting in a community. And we like it that way.

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Our family is growing!

While I’ve already posted this news to facebook and twitter, I think it deserves one more mention: our wine director, Seth, and his wife Katrina had their first child last week.
Elizabeth Jordan Traber-Hill is the newest addition to the Journeyman family, and we are so excited to have her! She was born on October 28 at 9:54am at 8lb 14oz & 20.5 inches, and she and her family are doing incredibly well.

In addition, we’re looking to grow our staff a bit more, too. If you’re interested in joining Journeyman as a cook or server, please check out the information on our jobs page.

I’ve finally stopped telling guests how many weeks old we are; we’re officially at two months now. We’ve been open long enough to stop counting the services in days or weeks, and we’re getting steady enough to start debating expanding our menu to include a bar menu. Would you come to Journeyman in the late evening for a glass of wine and a plate of charcuterie?

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