Wednesday, March 25, 2009

duelling menus in the south end

"So what are you going to have?"
"The lamb brik, and then the duck or the flounder."
"Yeah, the lamb brik definitely looks like best appetizer on the menu."

Once again, I am out later than I should be on a school night for food-related reasons. This time, my excuse is not a food blogger event, but a Restaurant Week dinner with Jake and Michelle. We're at Sibling Rivalry in the South End, and Jake and I are analyzing the menu while Michelle looks on with patient amusement.

Jake and I originally became friends because we were both fascinated with food. When we were dating, our conversations focused on the meals we’d eaten and the recipes we wanted to try. Our brief involvement is now ancient history, but some things still haven’t changed: Jake gives me details whenever he and Michelle go out to eat, and we still have IM conversations that open with links to kitchen tools, or turn into troubleshooting sessions for recipes that didn’t turn out quite to Jake’s satisfaction.

It should therefore come as no surprise that we’re planning out our selections with the precision of Hannibal planning his trek across the Alps. There’s plenty to analyze: Sibling Rivalry is offering its entire menu for the Restaurant Week three-course prix fixe, rather than a set menu with just a few choices in each category.

As the name suggests, Sibling Rivalry is the creation of two brothers, David and Bob Kinkead. Their good-natured competition is showcased in a “duelling” menu that divides dishes into columns headed under “Chef David” and “Chef Bob.” Our server tells us they’re keeping score. (He doesn’t tell us what the score is, though.)

Ideally, we would each be ordering a completely different meal so that we’d get to sample nine dishes in all. Of course, it doesn’t always work that way: both Jake and I have latched onto the Moroccan-inspired lamb brik, and neither of us is going to change our minds. Michelle has already declared that she’ll have the crispy fried squid, the hangar steak, and the butterscotch pudding, so Jake and I are figuring out who’s getting what for an entree. Jake ultimately decides on the deep-fried black back flounder and the bread pudding, and I opt for the seared Long Island duck breast and the chocolate mousse.

We place our order, and our friendly server follows immediately with a bread basket. There’s a lull in the conversation as we start in on the slices of challah, whole-wheat, and Irish soda bread, and I take the chance to look around.

The restaurant is divided into spaces, each with a different decor and atmosphere. The main room is done in shades of red and copper with leather banquettes, and has a volume level of the sort that might make conversation difficult. Fortunately, we’re seated in a quiet space in the back, which is done in pale green with wooden chairs, and feels almost like the dining room of someone’s house.

Conversation focuses on the Boston restaurant scene, and Jake and I are puzzling over Boston’s lack of breakfast places when our starters arrive. We put aside the discussion, and turn our attention to the food.

The lamb brik is a crisp golden pastry packet in a little pool of lamb jus, with slices of cucumber and orange segments on the side. The filling is fragrant with spices and rich with gently poached egg, and its softness contrasts nicely with the crisp pastry. My only complaint is that I could really use a spoon: the lamb filling has a tendency to scatter, and a fork isn’t the best utensil for scraping up the curried jus.

Michelle pronounces her squid to be excellent, and urges me to try a piece. I agree that it’s some of the best I’ve ever had: tender, with a perfect, light crispy coating, and a flavorful ginger-lime-chili dipping sauce.

Our server clears our plates and offers us a refill on the bread basket. We gladly accept, though Jake jokingly suggests that we should have asked if we could get just the Irish soda bread. (The challah and the whole-wheat aren’t bad, but the Irish soda bread, with its fine crumb and generous studding of raisins, is superb.)

We’re discussing venues and wedding catering when our server arrives with our entrees.

The duck breast is served in thin slices on a bed of celery root puree, lapped in duck reduction with dried fruit and cipolini onions, and crowned with a tangle of watercress salad. I generally prefer duck leg to duck breast, but this is seared to a perfect medium-rare, and nicely tender. The reduction is rich and dark, and the thin slices of raw cipolini onion add a freshness that balances out the sweetness of the dried fruit. Finally, the celery root puree is creamy and mild.

I trade a piece of duck for some of Jake’s black back flounder, which is drizzled with a spicy mustard-tasso ham sauce and served with crispy potatoes. Once again, the kitchen crew proves that their deep-frying skills are exceptional: the batter on the fish is light and wonderfully crisp. I’d be willing to eat the fish with nothing more than a drizzle of lemon, but the creamy, spicy sauce is a delicious accompaniment. Jake is very enthusiastic about it, and Michelle agrees that it’s better than her grilled hangar steak, which is perfectly cooked, but not very interesting.

Michelle wins when it comes to dessert, however. Although the chocolate mousse is satisfyingly dense and rich, and the bread pudding pleasantly light, it’s the butterscotch pudding that steals the show. It’s lovely and thick, with a delicious deep burnt-toffee flavor. Ginger cake and candied pecans add extra texture. Just a spoonful is enough to leave me wondering if I can replicate the recipe myself at home.

I turn down our server’s suggestion of coffee with regret. It would be the perfect accompaniment to the chocolate mousse, but I have to get to sleep at a reasonable hour. After we finish up dessert, we settle the bill, and soon we’re making our way back towards Back Bay station.

On the way, we do a bit of math: the brik was chef David’s dish, the squid was Chef Bob’s dish, the duck was chef David’s dish, and steak and flounder were Chef Bob’s. We ordered three dishes from each. For our meal, at least, it looks like the brothers have ended in a draw.

(For the record, if you’d like to add your vote to the Kinkead brothers’ competition, Sibling Rivalry’s Restaurant Week menu will be available until April 3rd.)


Julia said...

I used to love Sibling Rivaly, but haven't been in ages. The squid was definitely one of my favorites.

burpandslurp said...

everything sounds freaking good. good thing you didn't post pics or I'll just have to eat up my Mac.

adele said...

Julia - If I'd known the squid was going to be that good, I would have suggested getting it as an extra appetizer for the table, instead of letting Michelle have it (mostly) to herself. :)

burpandslurp - I'm pretty awful with a digital camera, so I think your Mac is safe. :P

Paipai said...

We went to Sibling Rivalry shortly after Valentine's Day last year. The service was TERRIBLE. Though we had a reservation, they kept us waiting for over an hour, with no on coming to update us or offer us a drink or anything. Further, the food just wasn't good enough to make up for the appalling service.

adele said...

Paipai - Eek. I'm sorry to hear that. I have no complaints about the service we had, but I honestly don't know what the restaurant is like when it's not Restaurant Week.

Googie Baba said...

Another restaurant I want to try. Can I get you to come to JP to look into VeeVee? I am curious about that one too.

BTW - Jen's aunt owns a string of breakfast places on the South Shore. Very New England. She has things like fish and beans on the menu for breakfast. If you want to take a road trip to what some consider the real Massachusetts you might want to consider stopping by.

Adele said...

Googie - I've never been to any restaurants in JP. I will look into VeeVee.

And I would love to visit one of those breakfast places. Fish and beans sounds like a pretty good breakfast to me. :)