Restaurant review: The Kitchen excels in concept and style, but could use tinkering with recipes and techniques

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From the August 15, 2013 edition

When it comes to bright ideas and contemporary style, the cupboards are full at The Kitchen. When it comes to consistently serving customers good food, this interesting and newish place might want to revisit a few techniques and recipes.

It certainly looks great. The Kitchen’s owners have tastefully transformed an old video store into what now resembles a far-from-starving artist’s loft. This huge and beautiful open space includes strictly communal seating, classic German Village brickwork, a windowed alcove with pretty furniture, vintage wooden floors and lots of dark slate gray paint — some of which covers an impressively restored original tin ceiling.

Describing The Kitchen cuisine-wise is much tougher. See, it changes drastically practically every evening. On most nights, it’s a reservations-only, restaurant/cooking class/meet-n-greet/dinner-party hybrid in which diners (for usually about $65 each) participate in the preparation of fare that has ranged from tacos to a steakhouse-y beer-pairing dinner to cocktails with hors d’oeuvres to a “Seasonal New England” meal. I visited during The Kitchen’s less-interactive, no-reservations-required and non-DIY services — on a wildly packed “Taco Tuesday” and a much less crowded Saturday “Hangover Brunch.”

Taco Tuesday was like an electro-chill-tunes-playing indoor food truck event in which I stood in line for 35 minutes to place my order. A drink (relatively nice-priced $4.50 Seventh Son beers plus undistinguished $6 Summer Punches and watermelon margaritas were available) might’ve eased that wait, but there wasn’t a separate beverage line. In other words: Want another Summer Farmhouse Ale while eating? Back in line you go!

After ordering and taking my paid receipt to the big open kitchen, my stuff was delivered quite quickly — by servers roaming the massive room repeating my name to each large communal table. All of the barbecue-esque tacos I got ($3 apiece) arrived on room temperature flour tortillas garnished with a simple slaw. Three featured warm, tender and moist stewy meats very timidly seasoned. Among these, I much preferred the mustardy pulled pork over the barely sauced OK brisket or the sweet and mild barbecue-sauced pulled chicken (which included a bit of bone). Most of the flavor on a corn and potato taco came from black pepper.

Side-wise ($2 each), the un-creamy mac-n-cheese had a nice crust; the basically unadorned collards were artlessly satisfying-enough; the “spicy” vinegar-based slaw was hardly spicy; and the baked beans were dry and single dimensionally sweet.

Starting with a pulpy, intriguing and spicy gazpacho-like Bloody Mary ($6), my Saturday brunch was better. Facebook, a chalkboard and my order-taker told me “sopas” were being highlighted that day. Sopa is Spanish for soup. What The Kitchen was actually offering were sopes — fried masa discs generally dressed with refried beans, cheese and taco-y things.

The best part of my sope ($9.50) was a tangy, bold and excellent roasted salsa verde. Also on my generously filled black plastic plate were a fried egg, flavorful and soupy beans, mild sausage crumbles, sauteed peppers and onions plus a puzzlingly hard and quartered sope. Everything was lukewarm.

A similar temperature hampered a somewhat interesting combo of sweet BBQ-sauced pulled chicken (in large supply), greens, good coarse grits and an egg ($11). This came with a side of lean and nice slaw. As for an added side of fried redskin wedges ($3), the ones that weren’t hard or black-charred were fine.

The fruit-strewn, sweetly restrained Noodle Kugel (Jewish macaroni dessert, $4.50) was a comforting success. And proof The Kitchen can get things right.

Photos by Meghan Ralston