Was Bound’ry so hot it was bound to burn? The kitchen fire that closed the immensely popular bar and restaurant on Oct. 1, 1997, created short-term difficulties for the owners, staff, and patrons. In the long run, however, it may turn out that the enforced sabbatical was a blessing in disguise.
After it opened, to great fanfare, in late December 1996, Bound’ry was an instant success. Foodies loved it for its wildly eclectic menu of tapas. The “see and be seen” crowd jammed the bars downstairs and up. The little street outside the restaurant was clogged with Beemers and Jeeps impatiently waiting for valet parking, while inside, a two-hour wait for a table was not uncommon on weekends.
After a while, the pace at Bound’ry settled down to a manageable level, but the bar scene continued with the same frenetic pace, crackling with urges and surges that could have easily sparked a spontaneous combustion of their own.
Last spring, I met two girlfriends there on a Friday night for dinner. With a 45-minute wait for a table, we decided to have a cocktail at the bar. We took one look at what seemed to us a writhing mass of hormones and ran as fast as we could in the other direction. As much as I was craving a taste of Deb Paquette’s and Michael Cribb’s culinary magic, I didn’t want to battle the bar in order to enjoy it. For the next year, I didn’t go back. I know I wasn’t the only Bound’ry fan who had that reaction.
When Bound’ry reopened on Dec. 13, it did so minus Paquette, who had taken over Cakewalk, and minus a fair number of fickle-hearted scenesters, who had moved on to The Trace or Havana Lounge.
In the plus column, however, Bound’ry had gained the full-time attention of the acclaimed Guillermo “Willie” Thomas, who now shares chief chef duties with Cribb. Although it may not be discernible to the casual palate, discerning ones will note a fresh focus on the food. A meal at Bound’ry one recent Friday night found me falling in love all over againrather unexpectedly, which made it all the more delightful.
Our party of eight settled into the cozy back dining room, at a table near the fireplace, one with a grand view of the refurbished murals that enliven the walls.
Our party included two Bound’ry neophytes, who were initially overwhelmed by the number of selections listed on the extensive menu of “global cuisines.” (The breadth of the selection is not just confined to the food; nearly 100 beers are listed, from countries including the Netherlands, Belgium, China, and even the Czech Republic.)
“How can I possibly pick just one thing?” one of the virgin voyagers wailed.
Indeed, if you have a problem making decisions, Bound’ry may not be the place for you. The same holds true if you’re in a hurry. Unless you already know exactly what you want, or unless you’re so compulsive that you order the same dish again and again, you’ll want to allow some time to explore the new territory. The menu is still divided between tastings and large plates. The set menu brims with more than 40 options, and a few more “extensions” are available each day. With such a large party, we were able to sample eight choices from every category. I pity the poor couple with only enough appetite to sample four dishes between them.
Cribb and Thomas have forged a happy alliance in the kitchen. (I would never have thought it possible, knowing a little something about the big egos of most chefs.) It’s a chicken-or-egg questionendlessly arguable and ultimately irrelevantwhether the creatively supportive partnership led to the extensive menu or whether the extensive menu led to the partnership. Either way, it works. According to Cribb, “We all have egos, but in this kitchen, you put your ego in your pocket. You let it become an energizer and not a problem. As co-chefs, you cannot be territorial. We both have responsibility for the outcome of the kitchen. We cover each other’s backs.
“The kitchen is the heart of a restaurant, and if the heart’s not pumping, there’s nothing you can do to save it.”
During the time the restaurant was closed, Cribb and Thomas holed up in a test kitchen, re-working some Bound’ry classics and experimenting with new ideas. As a result, about 60 percent of the reopening menu is making its debut.
If I were half of a twosome and faced with limited choices, I would order the curried lobster flapjacks, a sublime fusion of flavors and textures, or the picture-perfect black sea scallops, their sweetness balanced by a chickpea rosemary polenta. If my party were larger, I would add the Killa Crabcake (picture a regulation-size crabcake on steroids) encircled by smoked corn remoulade; the Yuca Empanada, presented on an elegant slab of marble; and a tuna nori roll. The cedar-plank portobello is big and meaty, oozing melted mozzarella and goat cheese. I would also try something from the daily extension menu. That’s where the kitchen tries out new dishes, using you as the guinea pig.
Among the large plates, the Trois Duck is an unimaginably rich alliance of confit, duck breast, and foie gras. At the other end of the spectrum is the crispy calamari and shrimp pasta, a delicate blend of healthy things and subtle flavors that linger on the tongue but provoke no pangs of guilt.
If you’re a lamb man (or woman), do not deprive yourself of Bound’ry’s flavorful rack, rubbed with rosemary and grilled, then served with a piquant Mediterranean relish and rosemary lamb jus. Ask for extra eggplant fries, since everyone at the table will be clamoring for them. Another winner is the Tennessee ostrich, a surprisingly mild meat (no, it does not taste just like chicken), marinated in pomegranate molasses before it’s grilled, sliced, fanned on the plate, and topped with currant sauce and a biting red-onion jam. The almond sweet-potato tart is an award-winning side dish that refuses to play second fiddle.
Paella fans will be well pleased with Bound’ry’s classic version. (Two vegetarian interpretations are also available.)
Believe it or not, after all this world traveling, we forced ourselves to sample the desserts, and you should too. Pastry chef John Wiedmayer is a master at his craft, and he never stumbles with any of his offerings, which change frequently. Kudos also to in-house baker Pierre Behar. We emptied four baskets of his breads, which we slathered with sweet-potato hummus butter. The beautiful cheese plate, featuring several notable imports, toasted walnut bread, poached pears, fresh figs, and stewed cranberries, made a perfect coda to the evening.
If it’s lust or love that you’re seeking, you might get lucky and find one or the other at the Bound’ry bar, but these days, the true passion is in the reenergized heart of the kitchen.
Bound’ry is located at 911 20th Ave. South (321-3043). Open 5 p.m.-12:30 a.m. Sun. & Mon.; 5 p.m.-1 a.m. Tues.-Sat. Major credit cards accepted.