Restaurant News & Reviews

Lexington's Sabío restaurant gets its groove back

Roman apple cake comes in a stack with crème fraiche and crème anglaise.
Roman apple cake comes in a stack with crème fraiche and crème anglaise. Mark Ashley

A review of Sabío must start by acknowledging its successful refashioning of the space formerly occupied by Dudley's.

The cozy, horsey ambience has been transformed into contemporary cool, complete with open space, 21st-century art and an eerie, life-size cinnabar-colored figure shooting from the wall in the "Detention Bar" (so-named because there surely was lockdown for misbehavers when the building was a school). Only the lighting is a harsh contradiction, weighing down the spirit of cool to cold. The hurricane lamps throughout seem to have been used at one point, and it would warm the atmosphere considerably to bring them back.

Where food is concerned, I have watched Sabío get its groove, falter momentarily and then rebound. Its opening weeks were great, with spot-on service and delicious salads. Late spring and early summer brought a couple of disappointing visits when the gnocchi were gummy and the wait staff annoyingly attentive.

But now the sense of excellence has returned. With the exception of the inelegant bruschetta, whose thick base resembles deep-dish pizza and whose surface is topped excessively with cheese (which has no business there in the first place), it's hard to order incorrectly.

Start with a cocktail — the gin martinis are not half-bad — to go with the ginormous plate of Asian-style green beans. In spite of the lake of soy sauce that needed some draining, what's not to love when the heat of ginger, some sesame oil, the spice of chilies and the sweetness of plum wine get involved?

Then leave the bar and spend the rest of the evening in the airiest room, the one off to the left when facing the maitre'd station.

If you want to keep the Asian theme going a little longer, order a simple spinach salad tossed in sesame vinaigrette with shredded daikon and slices of pear that are virtually see-through. Otherwise, go with the spring mix that includes fried green tomatoes — sweet and greaseless — bits of bacon, blue cheese and a beautifully-balanced buttermilk-basil dressing.

Some entrees exhibit classic technique. The roulade of duck stuffed with caramelized apples and wrapped with bacon was lovely. Its syrupy port reduction was studded with juniper berries. The root vegetable purée was delicate, and I never tire of an encounter with Swiss chard.

Other entrees are pure rustic, like the osso buco, braised properly so the meat falls off the bone. Sabío's version departs from convention in a few ways: The shank is pork rather than veal, the sauce is more of a jus than a rich gravy, and instead of heady saffron risotto, you get smashed potatoes. But license is encouraged in the culinary world, and this dish really works.

A light dessert is the way to finish, so get the "Roman" apple cake. Its crumb is tender, and there are bits of candied pecans on the crème anglaise. Thin apple slices peek out all around the sides, creating architecture out of simple layers. It doesn't seem clear to anyone exactly what is Roman about it.

Sabío has rescued a space whose Lexington credentials were almost iconic. That can be risky in these or any other days. If the food and service stay consistent, and the lighting receives a bit of attention, this might be Dudley Square's new icon.

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