The inventive fine-dining eatery ably adapts to the COVID-19 carry-out landscape
Middle West Spirits, a resourceful business that made its initial splash as a pioneering local distillery, is taking a proactive approach to the coronavirus outbreak. And the liquor-manufacturing company’s response to the pandemic is spiked with shots of innovation and empathy: It’s switched from producing vodka and whiskey to making alcohol-based hand sanitizer for frontline responders.
Service Bar, Middle West’s excellent fine-dining arm, is also adjusting to the crisis with characteristic thoughtfulness and flair. After Gov. Mike DeWine declared that restaurants could only offer takeout and delivery food, the eatery released a detailed plan for customers to safely and easily procure its playful-yet-sophisticated dishes.
Patrons can order online or by phone; I chose online. I placed my request early in the afternoon and took advantage of the option to select a pickup time (later that evening). As per instructions, I phoned when I arrived — which was five minutes prior to my scheduled hour — and was told my food was ready.
At this point, customers can pick up their order at a “no-contact table” or opt for curbside service. I chose the latter, and soon thereafter, a friendly fellow wearing nitrile gloves deposited the bagged food onto my car’s backseat.Get news and entertainment delivered to your inbox: Sign up for our daily newsletter
Included in that bounty was the sublime Koji Whole Rohan Duck — a riff on Hainanese chicken rice prepared with rohan, a prized and humanely raised breed of duck, cured in house-propagated koji (the mold that turns rice into sake and soybeans into miso).
Listed among three “family meals” on the carryout menu (each is $60 and serves four), the duck dish is the result of immense thought, time and labor. As Service Bar’s talented chef, Avishar Barua, has said of this rarefied treat, “It’s one of our favorite things to break our backs over.”
The takeout version looks quite enticing for something presented in a covered foil pan. Occupying ample space are two leg-and-thigh quarters that have been slow-cooked confit-style, then crisped in hot oil. They resemble fried chicken that’s uncommonly nuanced and fragrant with five-spice powder.
The skillfully sliced, considerably denser breast meat is markedly different but at least as delicious. It was presented in two rows of seven easily handled hunks of rosy flesh that tasted like flavorful steak with subtly sweet, briny and earthy accents crossed with dark-meat chicken. While the excessive fat had dutifully been rendered from the golden-brown skin, the great-tasting skin was no longer crispy when I sampled it.
Beneath the meat was properly sticky and delightful stock-enriched rice resonating with duck essence. Inspired garnishes served in plastic containers — shaved-and-pickled celtuce, a hoisin-like sauce, a gingery chimichurri-like sauce, plus a fruity-and-spicy condiment that recalls Thai yellow-bean paste — functioned like transformative costumes for a great actor. Considering the interplay between the entree’s various elements, it suggests about six terrific dishes in one.
Creative sandwiches ($18) served with a small side — such as the recommended SB Red Caesar salad featuring red cabbage — and a sweet treat (I received a tiny-but-lovely frosted spice cake) compose the bulk of the takeout menu.
Order the Jhol, and you’ll enjoy a puffy, grilled, house-made Chilean-style sourdough roll that’s so sturdy it won’t disintegrate when you load it with the saucy chicken curry provided in a plastic bowl. The meat in the curry was super-tender and the sauce, which was rich and zippy but not creamy or fiery, offered appealing notes of cardamom, peppercorns, fennel and cumin.
In characteristic fashion, the fun-promoting restaurant rewards customers who post photos of the most stylishly plated takeout orders with gift cards to other eateries currently offering takeout. While inhaling Service Bar’s outstanding Chocolate Cake ($15, serves two) with some-assembly-required cherry sauce, cream-cheese frosting and pistachio sprinkles, my dining partner and I swore that we’d wait long enough to take pictures of it next time.