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Sintra: A treasure of a restaurant in Braintree

It’s nice to see a restaurant grow, bit by bit, expanding as time passes and needs arise.

When owner-Chef Brian Jenkins and his wife Kerri opened Sintra in 2003 it was a storefront space with 40-foot ceilings, a loft, and its “front” door around the back. In 2007, Jenkins took over some of the space from an adjacent vacated deli and added a bar to his thriving restaurant. Then, last spring, a second, small dining room was added, and, at the same time – finally — Sintra secured an all alcohol liquor license and viola! The restaurant became the fully fleshed out version of a one-time dream.

The 92-seat eatery (which includes 24 seats in a cozy loft room used for private parties or dinner overflow) is pleasingly spare with muted colors, white tablecloths, wooden finishes, and a soaring space overhead. Every object (the utensils on the bread cutting station, the dishware on the counter in the open kitchen, the stored cutlery) appears to be have been chosen with precision and purpose to streamline service. Jenkins, who graduated from the Culinary Institute of America, cut his teeth working at places like Chicago’s Four Seasons, Boston’s Top of the Hub, and Mistral Bistro.

With all its parts functioning, Sintra has recently opened for lunch weekdays and it’s attracting a healthy clientele from the nearby office parks.

The steamed P.E.I. mussels in a spicy tomato sauce ($12) we started with one snowy night late last month were, really, the most beautifully cooked mussels I’ve ever had. And, I don’t mean the flavor of the sauce (which was wonderful), but the texture of the medium-sized crustaceans. They were completely tender in a way I’ve never known them to be. And, in a two-fer, the sauce they were cooked in was a spicy tomato soup I would have ordered solo. Great, too, were shards of a grilled, rustic bread that came with the dish.

The poached jumbo shrimp with lemon, horseradish, and cocktail sauce, sold singly for $2.50 each, are served with the chef’s characteristic attention to detail. The small lemon wedge was seedless, trimmed, and perfect and the cocktail sauce came with a side dollop of horseradish – for those, like me, who always want more. The shrimp was outstanding, and so large that three would exceed the portion control standard for a single serving of protein!

The eggplant slices in the grilled eggplant napoleon ($10) were delicately thin and layered with mozzarella and the sweet zinginess of oven-roasted tomatoes. The little stack was covered with a salad of baby arugula dressed in a sweet balsamic emulsion. (One of us, who thought he wasn’t liking the dish, changed his mind and ate it all.)

A pretty, deep white bowl somehow retained the heat in the capellini with arugula, oven dried tomato, shards of Parmesan, and garlic oil ($10/$19), down to the last forkful. The simple dish was deeply satisfying and good.

The broccolini that came with the baked haddock ($23) was outstanding. The stalks were caramelized, but not overdone, and flavored with garlic all over. The fish was lovely, too, with a thick crumb and sided with wonderful mashed potatoes (tasting completely unlike the pile of snow they could remind one of). A stewed tomato, too, added a contrasting bite to the mix.

Oh, the crispy half duck with basmati rice, bok choy, and sweet soy glaze ($26). Oh, the skin of the duck, its fat rendered off and away leaving a crispy salty counterpoint to the moist dark meat of the bird. I could have done with more bok choy, but it’s hard to complain here.

The bread pudding ($7) was mouthwatering – a little bit of whipped cream on your spoon, a dab of caramel sauce, too, and in it goes.
I’ve wanted to get back to Sintra for lunch – there’s so much more to Jenkins’s menu – but I keep getting snowed out.