Bolster, Snow & Co. seats 50, but you’d never guess it. Settle in at one of the tables in the main dining room of the new West End restaurant and count the round-backed café chairs. You won’t hit two dozen before you ask, “Is this everyone?” Not quite. On busy nights, diners are allowed to cascade out into an adjacent, but completely separate, dining room, and in a pinch, onto an extra few bar stools down the hall. The divisions in the space mean that, even filled to capacity, the restaurant retains a cozy, homey intimacy.

Which makes sense when you consider that Bolster, Snow occupies part of a restored brick residence, built for local merchant Mellen Bolster in 1881. Today, it also houses a 15-room boutique hotel, The Francis, named for Francis Fassett, the building’s architect. Executive chef Nick Verdisco, who trained and worked for years at Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s The Inn at Pound Ridge in New York, does not, however, view Bolster, Snow as a typical hotel restaurant. “It’s a food destination on its own, a restaurant that just happens to have rooms,” he said. “It’s got its own organic personality that comes from the cooking.”

I’d venture that Bolster, Snow’s unique character stems just as much from Verdisco’s own gregarious sensibility. Every seating, he wipes his hands on his apron and walks around the low-slung bar seats bordering the open kitchen, then stops at every table for a chat. Some are quick: “What do you think of that BSC cocktail?” he inquires smilingly of a middle-aged couple, before asking his front-of-house manager to bring them a branded postcard printed with the recipe for the spruce-garnished, cranberry-and-gin concoction ($14). Some are more involved, like the exchange with an older couple who live a few blocks away. They recall the past decade, when the building sat derelict. Most of all, they want to know about the iconic clock out front. “Please tell me it’s going to be fixed,” one pleads. “We’re working on it,” Verdisco promises, as they raise their wine glasses to toast to the prospect.

Verdisco tells me later that his goal in speaking with diners is “to get feedback so I can make things better, change direction if I need to.” But it’s also clear that he is an intensely social person, someone to whom close relationships matter dearly. So much so that, when he moved to Maine to helm Bolster, Snow, he brought three of his staff with him, including the strikingly talented 21-year-old pastry chef Sarah Miller, whose crusty sourdough bread was just the right degree of tangy, and whose éclair with cranberry compote, chantilly cream and a Morris Louis-esque streak of sweet, sticky cranberry gelee ($8) was one of the best things I have eaten in months. As a bonus, it came with a surprise: a layer of buttery craquelin, whose coarse, sugary crumbs drew me back again and again. I never finish choux pastry desserts. I ate every single bite of this one.

Verdisco’s team, both imported and local, prides itself on producing many of the restaurant’s ingredients in-house. Their biggest accomplishment just might be pasta. “Hey, I’m an Italian by descent,” Verdisco said. “I grew up in the Southwest, in Arizona, so I have that passion for heat, but my family used to have those intense Italian conversations about cooking, and I love the food.” You can see both elements of his heritage working together in Bolster, Snow’s lobster fettuccine with Italian sausage ($26). Verdisco sauces thumb-wide strips of pasta – somewhere in the neither-nor territory that lives between fettuccine and pappardelle – with “lots and lots of egg yolks,” cumin, smoked paprika, handfuls of parsley and chunks of housemade Italian sausage.

Some bites were remarkable, while in others, an excess of dried fennel bullied the gentle, subtle flavors of the steamed lobster meat. Regardless, the double- (or triple-) wide pasta sheets also served their purpose well: gathering up and transferring sauce, toasted breadcrumbs and tiny, flavorful morsels with every forkful. “My wife describes that dish as like going through a car wash with those big wet things flopping around, smacking into your car,” Verdisco said.

Another of Verdisco’s housemade pastas isn’t actually a pasta at all. The gnocchi that accompany his pork terrine ($13) are a three-ingredient dish – egg yolks, olive oil and salt – invented by Michael Voltaggio at his modernist Los Angeles restaurant, Ink. On a trip to California, Verdisco tasted them and was given the ingredients, but not the method for preparing them, by Voltaggio himself. After quite a bit of effort, he reverse-engineered the process. The result isn’t really gnocchi, but chubby, inch-long piped parcels of the richest, lightest scrambled eggs you’ve ever eaten. And Verdisco may have even one-upped his source of inspiration: I’ve tasted Voltaggio’s version at a pop-up, and Bolster, Snow’s are better. I would order them on their own.

But paired with a few slices of housemade pork terrine ($13), some pickled shallots and Fresno chiles, cilantro and pureed salsa verde, they serve a clear purpose: to lend depth to the dish, re-introducing just barely enough fat to prevent the delicately seasoned terrine from getting swamped out by the strong flavors from the garnishes. It’s a dangerous gamble, but it pays off. By a hair.

A safer dish, deviled eggs with truffle (all snacks are $6 each, or three for $15), also puts Verdisco’s finesse with potentially overwhelming flavors on display. Here, he takes oil directly from a canned truffle and blends it with Kewpie mayonnaise, Champagne vinegar and egg yolks, along with the tiny scraps of truffle that have been dislodged. It’s a move that gives the smooth mixture a droning, mushroomy funk, which he cuts smartly with a sprinkle of shichi-mi togarashi, a peppery Japanese spice blend.

Verdisco and his team repeat the technique of salvaging crumbs and tidbits in his triptych of cauliflower, an accompaniment to the pan-fried hake with maitake mushrooms and curry oil ($26). In preparing a creamy, curry-oil-drizzled cauliflower puree as well as steak-like cuts of the vegetable that they sear and season – like a protein – with a pat of butter, the kitchen staff looses hundreds, even thousands of teensy cruciferous crumbles. Rather than compost them, Bolster, Snow pickles them with golden raisins and adds both back for an occasional sparkling ting of acidity.

Another surprisingly lively winter dish is Bolster, Snow’s fried-sage-topped fennel fritters ($6). Verdisco first prepared them to fulfill a special request from Harry Connick Jr., who, at an event for 300 people, asked for “something fried that was also healthy,” Verdisco said. “I laughed at that. I couldn’t help it.” He tried beets and parsnips, then decided to treat roasted fennel like rice and turn it into something akin to arancini, incorporating cheese and plating it with a harissa aioli. I’m absolutely certain they didn’t fill Connick Jr.’s health brief, but they are savory and crisp, with a vivid peppery heat.

Really, Verdisco should have made him Bolster, Snow’s carrot fries ($6), which are tempura-like in texture. Inspired by “an image of people eating raw crudite back in like, 1992, or something,” Verdisco wondered how he could make carrots tastier and better for dunking, especially when winter carrots are notoriously as fibrous as a shipping pallet. His solution: parbake rectangular carrot sticks, dredge them immediately in cornstarch, let them cool to absorb the coating, then dust again and fry quickly. These fries stay fluffy inside and crunchy outside – ideal for dipping in a ramekin of thick, curry-and-bleu-cheese mayonnaise.

“Oh, yeah,” I overheard a man at the next table comment. “I want a huge plateful of these fries to take home. I’ll sit in front of the TV and watch Netflix while I eat them.” I was on board with that idea. I also understood immediately how Bolster, Snow’s intimate, cozy atmosphere and warming, approachable menu would put someone in mind of their comfy sofa and remote control. But with more than a dozen rooms upstairs with cable television and WiFi, I confess: I’d be tempted to skip a step and just order room service in my pajamas.

Andrew Ross has written about food in the United Kingdom and in New York, where he co-founded NYCnosh, a food website. He and his work have been featured on Martha Stewart Living Radio and in The New York Times. He is an Internet researcher and higher education consultant. Contact him at:

[email protected]

Twitter: @AndrewRossME

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