Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Honest bar blogging*: retro heaven in the Kitchen

It's unusual for me to plug a local restaurant on the Hub Review, but Kitchen, at 560 Tremont (right across from the BCA theatres) is a special case in several respects.

Wait, let me back up a bit: what makes Kitchen outstanding is actually its bar, not its restaurant (although the food is fine), and I am a confirmed skeptic of all bar reviews.  I'm not hot enough (and alas, never was) to get past a velvet rope, and let's be honest, that's all that really distinguishes a trendy bar from an untrendy one: the sexiness of the clientele.  Even though I know the baristas in every joint in town do go on about the artisanality of the drinks they're slinging - they're serious about what they do, in that way that only young hotties can really be serious - I almost always find their mixes at best a mixed bag.

But every now and then you stumble on a bar which seems to really be serious about its drinks.  And Kitchen is one such saloon. The bar is small (you can see the edge of it at left), so there's no b.s. about ambience - although the decor is comfy (blocky leather seats and banquettes in earth tones). To be honest, the bottom line is that there's just not enough room here to squeeze in enough sexy bods to make the place a "scene."

So you're left with the drinks.  Even here, however, I admit Kitchen is not particularly original.  Their drink list reads like a lot of drink lists these days, with manly swallows called stuff like "Satan's Short Hairs," to banish forever the fruity spectre of the cosmo, and to match the animal-fatty, heavy-on-the-sugar-and-sauce nouvelle graisse menu.  (Yes, I just coined that.)

But in a way, Kitchen's lack of originality is also what makes it special (or at least better than Stephi's or Aquitaine): all its food and drinks are sourced in historical recipes (there's even a shelf of cookbooks along the wall for back-up).  And perhaps this did make the difference: for once, the structure of these drinks was actually apparent, and the barista (who ensured "artisanality" by measuring everything carefully before our eyes) did seem to know how to cut against bitters, and balance the sweet edge of citrus.  My Old Fashioned (phone photo by Mary Ellen at right) was simply the best I've ever had, and the hot mulled wine was almost as good - steamy and deliciously subtle.  The rest of my party was likewise impressed - as we were by the vault of vinyl you could choose from for the turntable in back.  Coltrane, Davis, and Ella - all on vinyl?  Between this and the drinks, we thought we'd died and gone to retro heaven.

Once we moved on to dinner, much of that special spell still held (no surprise as proprietor Scott Herritt is also responsible for Grotto and the reboot of Marliave).  Although some historical recipes do have their gaps, as I came to realize.  I gambled on the lamb pie, for instance (circa 1747), seduced by the idea of lamb lying down with stilton and arugula - but should have known better than to hope for a flaky crust from eighteenth century London!  Other diners fared better - the 1833 "Tournedos Rossini" (foie gras, black truffles, tenderloin, at left) proved just as operatically over-the-top as it sounds, while Thomas Jefferson's own macaroni and cheese (although it was actually penne and cheese) was nearly as promiscuously rich.  And when it comes to dessert, go for the baba au rhum: a fluffy island of savarin cake drifting in rum syrup.  Just trust me.  (The doughnuts also proved decadent, though.)

Of course what I can't say is that Kitchen is cheap.  But you know - you don't always get what you pay for.  At least at Kitchen you do.

*All drinks and food were bought and paid for. Drinks $12+; entrees $25-40.