Mock Turtle Soup at Kitchen
by MC Slim JB
| August 20, 2012
Ask a Bostonian to identify a historic restaurant, and she might name the Union Oyster House (established in 1826) or Durgin-Park (1827), hopefully while noting that most such places are forgettable tourist traps. Combining history with worthy food is trickier. Scott Herritt managed this feat with his revival of Restaurant Marliave (1875), where he restored its Victorian-era look and crafted a menu dotted with highlights from its century-plus history. His new South End restaurant, Kitchen (560 Tremont Street, Boston, 617.695.1250), doesn’t occupy a famous old building, but its menu draws from Herritt’s vast collection of vintage cookbooks to mine several centuries of European and American cooking.
Venerable standbys of New England and Continental cuisine hit the eye first: raw oysters ($16 for six), bacon-wrapped scallops ($14), and a simply roasted, beautifully crisp-skinned half-chicken ($22) nestled atop baby carrots and chunks of summer squash. Julia Child gets a nod with pan-roasted sole ($24), tender fillets liberally drenched in butter. Colonial notes are struck with lamb pie ($22), braised shank, potatoes, and peas in gravy under a pastry crust. Pork and beans ($21) are a hoary Boston cliché made memorable with house-made sausage, glazed ribs, and an offal meatball. Revived haute-cuisine relics include tournedos Rossini ($32), tenderloin medallions crowned with foie gras, black truffles, and a glistening Madeira sauce, and lobster Thermidor ($30), a swank casserole of shelled meat, spinach, and gnocchi in a mustard-spiked cream sauce. An antebellum Hamburg steak ($18) goes old-old-school on the hamburger craze with a well-seasoned, nicely charred patty of quality ground beef bedecked with a mess of excellent skinny fries and a big disk of Roquefort butter.
These may be ancient, but they’re familiar. Ever seen mock turtle soup ($12)? This olde English throwback uses inexpensive cuts of beef to mimic the delicacy that was green-turtle soup. The result here is gorgeous, with beef cheek providing a fattiness and deep flavor akin to short ribs, sliced tongue echoing the texture of reptile meat, and carrots and peas lending a homey accent. Add two of Kitchen’s fine house-made rolls, and this satisfying app becomes a meal. Big, well-constructed vintage cocktails include the Vieux Carré ($12): rye, Cognac, sweet vermouth, Benedictine, and bitters. The wine and beer lists are short, modest, and sensible, the narrow dining room similarly sturdy, lined with chunky booths in plain brown leather. Herritt may want to unearth a few lighter gems from the past if he hopes to hook young whippersnappers accustomed to a more modern style. In the meantime, especially as the weather turns cooler, Kitchen seems set to revive at least a passing interest in the cookery of our forebears in all its rich, animal-fat-laden glory.