Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Honest food blogging*, Harvard Square Edition: the Sinclair Kitchen

Go for the cheap food, not the cheap industrial chic - The Sinclair Kitchen in Cambridge.
I routinely ignore the opinions of rock music fans on just about everything - but I admit their taste in food is often particularly awful; indeed, when a pop fan tells me I have just got to try this or that a-mazing dish, I immediately have a pretty good idea of what I'm going to avoid at all costs.

So I was surprised to discover that the fairly-new Sinclair Kitchen in Harvard Square (which is attached to the music club of the same name, just off Church Street) is something of a culinary find - particularly given that its entrees are mostly under $20.  

The chefs here are Marcellus Coleman and Michael Schlow, whose restaurant résumé includes the once-trendy Radius, as well as newer eateries Via Matta and Tico. And at the Sinclair, I'd argue Schlow has once again worked the magic that has won him accolades as the Best Chef in the Northeast - only this time he has fused spices and tangs from regions across the globe (some as close as Paris, others as far off as Seoul).

But first - ignore the "cool," industrial-chic - but actually kind of dated and cheap - décor; it's for club fans only (I've heard there's a nice terrace available, but that is of little use in January).  Likewise try to ignore the thumping bass emanating from the performance venue next door.  And you may not want to bother with the pricey, pretentious cocktail list - on which most of the concoctions have been over-thought and over-worked. (We tried the Sazerac and the Pomegranate Ginger Spritz, neither of which impressed  - I suggest perusing the long list of bourbons and brews instead.)

Just stay focused on the menu, where unexpected shots of fire and smoke singe a wide range of millennial pub standards. Indeed, the basics here are not unfamiliar - the Sinclair goes heavy on nouveau-macho fats and proteins, cut here and there with trendy veggies like kale.  But the zesty devil is in the details, and here Schlow plucks spices from around the globe to conjure what-the-fuck mix-and-match curveballs like sweetbreads with peanuts and "shrimp and popcorn grits."

I know.  Many of these sound like recipes for dude-food disaster.  But Coleman and Schlow do know what they're doing, and as long as you're careful to not actually chomp on a rogue jalapeño, I think you will be intrigued by these gonzo juxtapositions, spritzed as they are with sudden jolts of fire and spice.

The best dish my table sampled actually turned out to be the brussels sprouts (yes, the brussels sprouts), which came sauteed with "molasses pickled garlic, walnuts, and red jalapeños." Again, I know what you're thinking - but trust me, these sprouts rock. Runner up to the title of best-in-show was the exquisitely piquant steak tartare (which came with truffle aioli), followed closely by the savory Tuscan kale and naan with roasted cauliflower and chickpeas.

But if subtle tweaks are your culinary bag, try instead the Parisian gnocchi, which proved tastily smoky thanks to its charred-onion broth - although alas, the mac-and-cheese was, by comparison, solid but uninspired, while the "kimcheese" steak (a cheesesteak with home-made kimchi) likewise never quite took flight. These slight disappointments were soon forgotten, however, thanks to a delectable, doughnut-y dessert that arrived free of charge (unheard of in a restaurant with price points this low!).

So will we be back?  You betcha.  Will we be careful about the cocktails and the jalapeños?  Again - yup.  But the best of the Sinclair is definitely worth a few spice-burns.

* "Honest food blogging" means we paid for everything.

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