If you want a glimpse into the near future of contemporary American dining, head down to Power Plant Live, where a promising new restaurant named Kettle Hill has put down stakes. It's a farm-to-table restaurant for the century's second decade.
If the obvious comparison is to Woodberry Kitchen, the Kettle Hill experience is more accessible and less intense. For one thing, you can waltz right into Kettle Hill and get a table, at least on a weeknight.
The principal owners here, Desmond Reilly and Kristopher Carr, have said that Kettle Hill is inspired by Theodore Roosevelt, whose exploits in the Spanish-American War also supplied the restaurant's name. Reilly and Carr are admirers of the farm-to-table movement but not zealous adherents to it. Yes, Kettle Hill sources its beef and bison from nearby producers, but the menu speaks softly about these things.
Otherwise, staples of the genre are firmly in place — the chic farm aesthetic, complete with reclaimed wood from a Pennsylvania barn, the bar menu of handcrafted cocktails, and the bar and wait staff outfitted in chambray work shirts. Fortunately, the joint truly looks great and the staff is expert.
You'd expect sections devoted to charcuterie and oysters at a place like Kettle Hill, and there they are, right on top of the single-page menu. At its core, this menu is comforting and meat-crazy, but scattered in the margins are items like homemade pickles and slightly edgy vegetables like pea tendrils, the kind of things that make a restaurant feel like it's part of a mission.
There's a trade-off, of course. The food at Kettle Hill is uniformly well-produced and almost always satisfying, but it's not necessarily going to get diners excited about a chef's new ideas. The original chef at Kettle Hill was Sarah Acconcia, formerly of 13.5% Wine Bar in Hampden. Acconcia has left Kettle Hill, amicably, and the menu at Kettle Hill is now in the hands of culinary director Steve Roberts. It's not entirely clear if the menu we saw was a transitional one.
It might not hit you until the next morning that there's something impersonal about the current menu. When you're at the table, though, enjoying the staff's kind attention and basking in the room's amber glow, you're more likely to focus on the things the kitchen does well.
Early on, the charcuterie offerings come off better than the shellfish presentations. I loved a mousse of brandied chicken and duck liver topped with fire-toasted pistachios and a country pate spiked with bourbon. A shellfish tower with oysters, clams, spiced shrimp and mussels was a little wobbly. A barbecue cocktail sauce was just weird, and the mussels tasted funky.
From a shared-plates section, there is a smoked bacon and cheddar dip, served piping hot with flatbread and slices of tart apple, which you'd easily order again. Another appetizer, tacos filled with lamb, queso fresco and refried lentils, needs a finishing touch, something that would make you recommend it, or even remember it. It's not even really all that shareable.
It's with the entrees that Kettle Hill makes its strongest case. There is a fantastic steak, a dry-aged coulotte, or top sirloin, that has been confidently seasoned and precisely grilled. It's a beauty, and Kettle Hill serves it with buttermilk smashed potatoes and a choice of sauces — a homemade steak sauce or bone-marrow bearnaise, the latter of which tasted as rich as it sounds.
I liked the flavor and consistency of the crab cakes, too, which Kettle Hill is making with Maryland crab meat. There's too much production surrounding them, though — a red-pepper walnut pesto, pea tendrils and a bed of fried green tomatoes. Shrimp and grits with andouille sausage is a good-looking dish but the andouille jus used to saturate the grits is too strong and gives the dish a packaged taste.
The over-the-top Roosevelt Burger consists of two 9-ounce patties topped with barbecued pork, bacon, jack cheese and a fried egg. It was pretty tasty, and juicy as heck.
The dessert listing is short but appealing — mini-ice cream cones, a goat's milk cheesecake, a Krispy Kreme doughnut served bananas Foster-style with rum butter syrup and Chantilly cream, and chocolate brandy waffles topped with bourbon ice cream. Ice cream is the winner here, locally produced in flavors like Key lime and Berger cookie.
On the whole, the food is in good shape, the service is entirely on point and the general atmosphere is uplifting. Diners have their choice of three gleaming settings along a horizontal axis. At right, there's the handsome Saddle Bar, where wide-screen televisions show vintage newsreels. At left, there's a quiet dining room dominated by an open kitchen and a community dining table. In between, there's a hybrid space, where diners can keep themselves close to the action.
Think of Kettle Hill as Version 2.0 of the farm-to-table movement, with the rugged good looks we've come to expect and just enough adherence to the movement's founding ideas about seasons and sourcing to make the whole thing feel legitimate. Kettle Hill may be riding a wave, but it's doing it with confidence and professionalism.
Where: 32 Market Place
Contact: 443-682-8007, kettle-hill.com
Hours: Open for diner seven days a week and for brunch on Saturday and Sunday
Prices: Appetizers, $9-$14; entrees, $16-$46
[Key: Outstanding: ✭✭✭✭; Good: ✭✭✭; Fair or Uneven: ✭✭; Poor: ✭]