At Committee in the Seaport, small plates come second to socializing – The Boston Globe

Grilled octopus is made with fennel and caper berries, accented with orange.

KAYANA SZYMCZAK FOR THE BOSTON GLOBE

Grilled octopus is made with fennel and caper berries, accented with orange.

In the Seaport District, restaurants often anchor luxury condos and come with their own CEOs. But there’s heart to be found here in glossy town. It just has a different flavor than the city’s old, cobblestoned neighborhoods, where space is tight and buildings have gone crooked with age. Strip away the externals, be they charming or slick, and behind every project is hard work and hope.

Now we have Committee, opened in June. Owner George Aboujaoude is also behind Newbury Street restaurant Cafeteria, where one goes to be patio fabulous, and Theatre District nightclub Bijou. (Had the latter been called Carat, we’d have a theme.) It is thus no surprise to find a clublike scene: lounge-y leather couches, a wraparound bar that claims most of the real estate, dim lighting, and a cranked-up soundtrack that ricochets off the modern-industrial decor, turning patrons into business-casual Marcel Marceaux.

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Less predictable is the sincerity of Committee’s culinary ambition. The restaurant hired the thoughtful Geoff Lukas (Sofra, Philadelphia’s Zahav) as opening chef and brought on Diane Kochilas, an expert in Greek cuisine and cookbook author, to consult. The menu is a mix of Lebanese and Greek meze, reflecting both Aboujaoude and general manager Demetri Tsolakis’s roots. Do a bad job and there might be familial scorn to contend with: Run all the nightclubs you want. You’re still someone’s grandson.

Too, the staff has been trained to be engaging and solicitous, sometimes to a fault. Tsolakis walks the floor, applying the personal touch. A plate of saganaki — salty fried cheese drowning in the Greek liqueur Metaxa and served with a clashing, sweet raspberry compote — goes virtually untouched. A server notices, inquires, and removes the dish from the bill. Lukewarm effort in the service department doesn’t fly these days. A glut of restaurants and the pressure of competition are increasingly pushing the industry to realize that hospitality really is a key component of hospitality.

Baba ghanoush, salt-roasted beets, pita, and stuffed grape leaves.

Kayana Szymczak for the Boston Globe

Baba ghanoush, salt-roasted beets, pita, and stuffed grape leaves.

One evening, our server eagerly explains the restaurant’s concept: “It’s called Committee because a committee is a group that comes together to talk about new ideas, and we want people to gather here.” By the end of the night, we will know about his mom, his ex, his hobbies, his food likes and dislikes, and his cultural and geographical roots. He seems like a lovely guy. But he has also made our night all about him. We have officially been overserved.

And so it goes with the food, generally well-conceived and only sometimes well-executed.

The complimentary pita bread is excellent, puffy and warm. It comes with a tangy, balanced dip of feta and sundried tomatoes that’s one of the best things the restaurant serves.

Charred cucumber salad isn’t charred at all. It’s little more than vaguely smoky cucumbers. Salt-roasted beets with tahini and mint are served shredded, like beet tzatziki; one expects whole pieces of beet and fuller flavor. But Committee improves on the classic Greek salad horiatiki by adding strips of okra to the mix, crisp and earthy against the refreshing combination of tomato, feta, red onion, and mint.

North African-style hummus, beautifully scented with cumin and other spices, is served chunky. I like a creamier version, but this may simply be peanut butter-style preference, where there is no right or wrong, merely strong feelings on both sides. Baba ghanoush, on the other hand, has a pleasing texture but a smokiness some find too intense. That eggplant hasn’t been charred. It’s been immolated.

The classic Greek salad horiatiki includes strips of okra.

Kayana Szymczak for the Boston Globe

The classic Greek salad horiatiki includes strips of okra.

Dolmades, stuffed grape leaves, are dry one evening. On another visit, they are very good, the rice flavored with sumac and studded with pine nuts and currants. One order of souvlaki, skewered lamb flavored with Greek oregano, is tough. The next time we try it, the meat is juicier and tender. This ought to be a dish that sings with simplicity. Instead it lands a little flat.

Keftedakia, small meatballs, are served over tzatziki. Lamejun features a paste of spiced lamb spread over pita. Both are tasty yet forgettable, the case with too many dishes here.

Grilled octopus is the kind of dish one wants to see more of: tender, flavorful, served with fennel and caper berries, accented with orange. Moussaka is meat-free and made with artichokes, along with caramelized onions and potatoes. Bound together with cheesy bechamel, it is as creamy and comforting as the octopus is light and clean.

For dessert, there is baklava in need of more honey. Galaktobourekakia, a light custard in crisp phyllo dough with fruit, is better.

Pricing is a funny thing here. In the Seaport, where the proximity to water views adds a surcharge to the bill, it is refreshing to see a few more-affordable restaurants staking a claim. Committee is among them. If a group shares small plates and drinks responsibly, the bill is pleasantly low. Just don’t think about it too hard. As a diner, individual dishes can feel overpriced: $12 for three wee meatballs, $14 for a square of moussaka, $16 for two skewers of lamb.

And for a restaurateur, they likely feel underpriced. How to pay Seaport rents selling small plates? There’s a reason the bar is so big. Beverage director Peter Szigeti offers inventive drinks like the Cuban Affair (rum, lime, vanilla syrup, and balsamic) and the Smoke Show (strawberry-infused mezcal, Aperol, Amaro #4, sweet vermouth, and candied bacon chips). These are balanced on some nights, off on others. In addition to the usual local beers, there are selections from Greece and Lebanon. And the strong presence of grapes like assyrtiko and xinomavro makes this one of the better local places to drink Greek wine.

It speaks, in part, to a dearth of Greek restaurants in Boston, modern or traditional. Perhaps that is beginning to change. Restaurateur Michael Schlow is set to open the Greek-inspired Doretta Taverna in the coming weeks, in the space that was once Via Matta. Diners are increasingly interested in the flavors of the Mediterranean, and these are welcome in the Seaport. But if Committee wants to serve its hummus chunky, it needs to conquer consistency.

Lamejun features a paste of spiced lamb spread over pita.

Kayana Szymczak for the Boston Globe

Lamejun features a paste of spiced lamb spread over pita.

COMMITTEE

½

50 Northern Ave., Seaport District, Boston, 617-737-5051, www.committeeboston.com. All major credit cards accepted. Wheelchair accessible.

Prices Meze $6-$16. Desserts $6-$8.

Hours Daily 11:30 a.m.-2 a.m.

Noise level High.

What to order Baba ghanoush, dolmades, okra horiatiki, grilled octopus, artichoke moussaka

Extraordinary

Excellent | Good

Fair | (No stars) Poor

Devra First can be reached at [email protected] Follow her on Twitter @devrafirst.

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