Kitchenette is on the east side of Rene Levesque across the way from the Molson Brewery and the CBC building. It's a family run bistro that serves fun and eclectic food with a bit of a Houston, Texas flare - that's where the chef Nick Hodge is from. We arrive at about 8 o'clock and the dining room is about half full, no one is greeting guests at the door so we approach the bar. We're seated at what seems to be the only table in the restaurant with low leather lounge chairs - the table equivalent of a designer's "accent wall" we imagine. The stressed-wood floors are beautiful and the table lamps hung upside down on the ceiling as lighting is really cool. Our waiter arrives and presents us with menu's, his descriptions of menu items that we have questions about are helpful and spot-on. We order a few beers and make our final decisions.
We go with a 1/2 dozen oysters "shucked to order" with tomatillo-habanero mignonette, fresh cut limes and home made tabasco sauce and an order of Maryland style crab cakes with ranch dressing. Our appetizers arrive before our beers, and that's when the waiter realizes he forgot to order them. Unfortunately he didn't realize he also forgot to bring us bread after we ordered, and his coworker was the one who noticed we hadn't been given water either. He comes right back with the beers - no big deal. The crab cakes were really good, they had large identifiable pieces of lump crab meat, not full of filler, great tasting and crispy. The ranch sauce they were served with was anything but typical ranch. It was not thick and gross like bottled or fast-food variations, it was delicious, thin and light, probably buttermilk based. Our oysters came in a shallow metal pan on ice. The tomatillo-habanero mignonette and home made tabasco sauce (served in a medicine dropper bottle) were excellent condiments. The only disappointment we had was that the oysters were a little poorly shucked, a little bit of grit, a lot of lost oyster-liquor and in some cases the adductor muscle had not been completely cut, leaving the oysters still partially attached to their shells. We've all had this happen and no one likes tilting their head back to slurp an oyster just to end up tapping on it like a heinz ketchup bottle, eventually submitting to returning the oyster to the table to scrape it loose with your butter knife and try again.
Maryland Style Crab cakes with Ranch Dressing - 12$
6 Oysters, Tomatillo-Habanero Mignonette, Homemade Tabasco - 18$
Our mains came out hot and smelling great. The chicken-fried duck confit dish was insanely good, the star of the night. It's a play on chicken n' waffles - a confit duck leg treated like southern fried chicken; soaked in buttermilk, dredged in seasoned flour and fried in chicken fat. It's served with a sweet potato-wild blueberry waffle, Jack Daniel's white gravy and pickled mushrooms. This dish is perfectly balanced and we can see it becoming one of those dishes you get a strong craving for every now and then that you can't resist. It walks that thin line where salty & sweet work harmoniously. It has all the things your body craves on a primal level. Then, when you think it gets no better, the Jack Daniel's gravy is good enough to lick of your plate and the pickled mushrooms' vinegary sour note cuts all the richness of the dish like a hot knife through butter.
Chicken-fried Duck Confit, Sweet Potato-Wild Blueberry Waffle, Pickled Mushrooms, Jack Daniel's Gravy - 26$
Our other main was roasted arctic char, cooked perfectly served along sides that had a little bit of Moroccan/North-African flare. Delicious braised black chickpeas that had a light licorice note (maybe a little star anise), a lightly hot harissa aioli, and crispy, briny almond-stuffed fried olives. If the dish would have stopped there it would have really been on the same level as that fantastic chicken fried duck dish. But there was also a charred eggplant purée smeared on the side of the bowl it was served in. To be honest, without exaggeration, it tasted nothing like eggplant and exactly like an ashtray smells. "Charred" is one thing, this was quite another. The dish was not a special of the night, it's an item on their printed menu so it must not always taste this way or it wouldn't be there. Every component of our meal that we had eaten up until this point could not possibly exist along side this purée. The only likely scenario we can imagine is that the kitchen was guilty, on this night, of serving the purée without having tasted it. If they had tasted it, its 200% safe to say it would not have been served like that, it made no sense. So we did our best to pretend it wasn't there. We ordered a side dish of sweet potato tater tots with our mains as well and they were really good. The portion sizes at Kitchenette are great, we didn't really need them, but bottom line was we just couldn't resist ordering them when we saw them on the menu.
Roasted Arctic Char, Braised Black Chickpeas, Charred Eggplant Purée, Harissa Aioli, Almond-stuffed Almond Fritters - 24$
Sweet Potato Tater Tots - 5$
After our mains, we'll be generous and call him our "forgetful" waiter, was a little bit busy doing shots with the party at the table next to us. The restaurant at this point has gotten very busy and the room is lively. Another waiter, the same gentleman who acknowledged our lack of water at the beginning of the meal, notices our forgetful waiter's nonchalant attitude. He clears our empty plates in a hurry and offers us dessert that he tells us are made by chef Hodge's mother-in-law. We order a rocky road "cupcake of the day" and bread pudding. The cupcake is okay, but nothing more spectacular than the ones being created at the abundance of cupcake bakeries that have popped up in every neighborhood in 2010. Also labeling the price of a cupcake as "market price" seems preposterous. Last time we checked flour, butter and cocoa powder don't have quite the same price fluctuation as lobster, oysters and precious metals. The bread pudding on the other hand, is the best bread pudding we have ever had. We'd pay for this recipe, it would be worth it. It was tender and not too sweet, it tasted of cinnamon, was studded with raisins and was covered in pecans and caramel sauce. The portion is really generous, we found it would have been enough for us to share but it's so good its worth ordering one each next time anyways.
The night had its highs and lows but ultimately the meal minus our forgetful waiter and that charred eggplant purée was an overall success. Kitchenette offers a slightly different menu at lunch time featuring a whole section of house made tacos which also looks like a good time. Beers and tacos seem like they might really hit the spot on a hot summer day. Kitchenette: reminding people that there's more than office buildings, churches and bike couriers on Boulevard Rene Levesque, there's some good meals to be had there too!
Bread Pudding, Pecans, Caramel Sauce - 8$
"Cupcake of the Day" Rocky Road - 5$
1353 Boul. Rene Levesque E, near Panet