Friday, November 1, 2013

First Bite: The 404 Kitchen

Posted by on Fri, Nov 1, 2013 at 9:08 AM

A fish, not a sheep.
  • A fish, not a sheep.
I've been excited ever since I heard that chef Matt Bolus had plans to open his own restaurant after stints at FIG in Charleston and Watermark and Flyte in Nashville. He remained cagey about the details during the months prior to opening, but I figured that if he was involved, it would have to be good. It opened last week, and based on my first meal there this week, I'm happy to say that everything seems to be on track.

The 404 Kitchen is wonderful combination of ├╝berhip and down home, with a small dining room decorated in a hybrid industrial/natural style. Those tallow beef-fat candles that I heard about are indeed on each table, and Bolus shared that they have turned into an everyday project to keep them filled with beef fat to burn. He is still committed to this extra bit of side work as both a cost-saving and sustainability initiative.

The bar is still in the process of being fully stocked, but there are already plenty of interesting wine, spirits and high-gravity beer options to pick from. Our table of four each ordered a different cocktail from the recited list, and all were worthy of a thumbs-up. My Whiskey Smash with local lemon honey was absolutely delicious. In fact, the bar may become my favorite spot to visit since, they are limiting their Open Table reservations as they ramp up service, but the bar and patio seats are available for walk-ins.

The menu is tightly focused with eight appetizers, six entrees and four family-style sides. Our starters of housemade burrata, roasted cauliflower and a plate of 14-month aged Benton's ham were all excellent. The fact that Allan Benton's wife was dining at the next table did not affect our appreciation in the least.

Seafood dominates the roster of mains, and Bolus is quite talented with fish dishes. Sous chef Sam Tucker promised that all the elements of the cioppino were fresh that day, and it was well-received by my fellow diners. But my sheepshead was the standout of the table, even though our server said she had to explaid to several diners that it was an Atlantic fish from off the Carolina coast and not the head of a sheep. (Bolus' reputation for extreme charcuterie has evidently preceded him.)

The sheepshead fillet (yes, it really is a fish) was cooked under a bacon press to keep it flat while it gained a crispy skin and wonderful slightly charred flavor. Somehow the kitchen managed to keep the flesh of the fish moist underneath that crunchy exterior, and it was complemented with a creamy and seasonally appropriate pumpkin risotto. While I was certainly intrigued by the pork and beef dishes on the menu, I'd be hard pressed not to order that fish again on my next visit.

The family-style vegetables weren't actually family-sized, served in small creme brulee dishes, but since they're only $5-$6 apiece, it seemed worth ordering all four of them to share with the table. My dining companions commented on the simplicity of the preparations that allowed the true flavors of potato, beet, radish and squash to shine through. They called it almost a Japanese style of zen cooking. I called them awesome. (Clearly, they have more of a way wth words than I do. I ... not ... have ... way.)

Sam Tucker baked the excellent bread that accompanied the meal and prepares a short list of desserts that we were way too full to try. But that didn't stop us from a few bites of his Philadelphia-style ice cream served with a drop cookie. Wow!

It's still early, but I think Chef Bolus has a good thing going on at The 404 Kitchen. I can't wait to see what other tricks he has up his sleeve for the future. If you get there before I can eat the rest of the menu, please share your impressions here in the comments.

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