210 Stuart Street (Radisson hotel), Boston
Open Sun-Wed, 11:30 am-10 pm; and Thurs-Sat, 11:30 am-11 pm (late-night menu available nightly from 11 pm to 2 am)
AE, MC, VI
Valet parking, $14
Rustic Kitchen is actually the third restaurant of its name in Boston (with another in hingham).Its history is long and complicated, but it leads usto a menu that is both simpler and more consistent than its predecessors. If we were to ignore that story for a moment, we could boil rustic kitchen down to some very compelling food and wine, some amusing spaces in which to dine, and potentially useful late hours. But who doesn’t like to unroll a ball of yarn?
Our story begins, then,with a restaurant called Todd English Rustic Kitchen in Quincy Market. This happened at a time when English was opening so many restaurants, he couldn’t think of concepts fast enough. So Rustic Kitchen was christened witha wood-fired oven for “flat breads” (free-form rectangular pizzas) and some baked-pasta dishes. It was a kind of greatest-hits reprise of English’s other ideas.
But English eventually had to stop opening so many restaurants and regroup, so Todd English Rustic Kitchen was handed over to his ex-partner, Jim Cafarelli, in a legal settlement, and the name was simplified. Cafarelli, an architect and designer good enough to make the Quincy Market space functional, hired chef Bill Bradley andtook another, larger location in Porter Square. Bradley supervised first Mark Usewicz, then Tom Holloway. And earlier this year, Cafarelli closed the first two locations to open this Rustic Kitchen in what was once the 57 Restaurant, a large, modern dining room. Holloway is now executive chef.
Given the many changes in both owners and chefs, the menu has managed to successfully accumulate the specialties of each, despite a general (and wise) pruning.Thiscreativity goes into daily-special appetizers and entrées, so it doesn’t feel like a chain. And the current kitchen staff executes much more consistently (less rustically?) than in the past. That is, they don’t attempt to recreate they’ve everything ever tried. Still,I spot aTodd English move here, a Bill Bradley Italianism there, a signature Usewicz meatball in a couple of appetizers, and a some new tricks that must be pure Holloway.
We start with a simplified bread basket, definitely a sensible move when you can focus on something as good as the soft black-olive-flecked bread. With it comes an excellent white-bean paste and a pour of fruity (not flowery or nutty) extra-virgin olive oil.
My favorite appetizer was a special escarole soup with pork-lightened meatballs ($9), a fun reminder of the Venetian meatballs of the Bradley-Usewicz era. Another appetizer with meatballs featured Apulian ($10), a light blend of meats in a good marinara sauce.