Isn't it so nice when high expectations are met?
It's been a while since Cooper and I have had dinner anywhere different (and by "different" I mean "not pizza in our living room". I've been busy with work.) So Tuesday night was an extra special treat. We met our friends Lindsey and Mike for dinner at b, a tiny restaurant in Bolton Hill, near MICA (the art school).
Ever since b opened, a few years ago, I've wanted to go, but for whatever reason, I never think to. The restaurant's owner, Qayum Karzai (brother of Hamid), is also behind two of my favorite places in the city - The Helmand and Tapas Teatro. My high hopes for b were based on great experiences at both of Karzai's original restaurants. Both serve excellent ethnic food (Afghan and Spanish tapas, respectively) in interesting, if small, spaces, and for very, very reasonable prices. Tapas is a great place for a first date and The Helmand is perfect for entertaining slightly off-beat business guests. Above all, though, both have sold chefs.
So as soon as I heard about b, I wanted to give it a shot. Last Tuesday, a mere several years later, I finally made it. And I was not at all disappointed.
Bolton Hill is a nice neighborhood of well-tended gardens peeking out from behind enormous, elegant row houses. It's a quiet spot, despite it's close proximity to MICA's artsy hipsters and not-so-nice North Avenue. Overall, it's the perfect place for a high-end casual restaurant, but a somewhat surprising spot to find one anyway. Bolton Hill is a not a neighborhood full of corner taverns, or even upscale shops. b stands out as commercial establishment.
Stands out, but not in a glaring, or inappropriate way. The restaurant is housed in a row house, but a heavily remodeled one with large glass windows in front and extremely high ceilings. The space is tiny, with only room for about 50 diners, but feels open anyway. The service was friendly and the food was very, very good.
The menu is very American bistro - a variety of options, some clearly inspired by the French, some Italian, some Californian. The chef also offers several wood-fired pizzas (we didn't try any). Fish, meat, risotto...it's a good place to take your vegetarian friends, too. I had a simple dinner - a house salad (Boston lettuce, tomato and a phenomenal green goddess dressing served in a pool to the side of the vegetables), the house ravioli filled with ricotta served in a chunky, cheesy marinara. Tons of flavor and exactly the right amount. And homemade pistachio ice cream for dessert. Perfect.
The wine list was moderate and while it wasn't huge, it was certainly adequate. Again, the service was excellent (though, to be fair, it was a Tuesday night and not super crowded). Overall, it felt and tasted like a much more expensive meal than it actually was.
I'd imagine, though, that the space gets crowded later in the week, and it might be a little loud. But that wouldn't get in the way of my going back. The tables are small - it's not a place for a big group - but it is an absolutely ideal place to have dinner with friends.
Oh, but I should mention the one drawback: the open kitchen. Normally, open kitchens don't bother me at all. They're kind of cool, architecturally, and can foster a sort of connection to the chef. Unfortunately, on Tuesday night the chef wasn't super busy. Instead, he killed time watching us eat. Yes, watching for our reactions. Fortunately, the food was great. But still, kind of creepy.
Verdict: We'll definitely, definitely go back. But hopefully on a night when the chef isn't quite so nosy.
ADDED: The Urbanspoon page for b: