Thanks to my [almost] 10 years of professional food writing and my love for all things food, I've eaten a lot of good meals in my day (which I am so very thankful for). But, only a handful of those meals have been great. And when I say "great," I mean flawless from start to finish. Maybe one dish is a tad bit oversalted (or underseasoned), another not cooked quite right, etc. It's very rare (and very hard) to make a meal completely perfect. But somehow, places like Kitchen on Common in Belmont can pull it off.
Z and I went to Kitchen on Common about four years ago, and the meal has stuck in my mind ever since. I remember their focus being on mostly local, 100% quality ingredients, with a small yet impressive menu. So, when Leah asked if I wanted to join her and a few other bloggers there for dinner earlier this week, I quickly said
Kitchen on Common is small - the intimate space only has about 10-12 tables - but the decor is charming. From the wooden, swinging storm door to the local artists' creations on the wall (which rotate every so often), the atmosphere is instantly inviting and ideally casual.
Chef/owner Joh Kokubo is a graduate of the French Culinary Institute in New York City, and has worked as an Executive Chef at the Wellesley College Club, Sous Chef for Crimson Catering at Harvard University, and in numerous restaurants and hotels in both Boston and New York. Kokubo originally opened Kitchen on Common six years ago as a take-out and prepared meal place, but once he found that most patrons preferred to sit and eat right there, he decided to make it a sit-down restaurant.
Kokubo was kind enough to let us a try a little bit of everything from his menu, starting with his Caesar Salad ($6) and his Roasted Beet & Spinach Salad ($7).
I know what you're thinking: You really ordered a Caesar salad at this place? But trust me: This salad came highly recommended by Leah, and it was no ordinary Caesar salad. The crisp, obviously fresh lettuce was lightly coated in a classic Caesar dressing, and everything was topped with buttery garlic-herb croutons. If all Caesar salads tasted like this, I would eat them a lot more often (meaning, I'd actually eat them).
The beet salad was equally as impressive. The sweet beets complemented the thinly sliced radishes and creamy Great Hill Blue cheese wonderfully. Topped with candied pecans and sliced red onion, this dish was packed with fresh, well-balanced flavors and textures.
Kitchen on Common also offers several soups, including a Lentil Soup ($6). Lentils are not pretty to photograph, but this soup was packed with protein-rich lentils and topped with a spicy chili oil, which provided a necessary depth of flavor to each spoonful. Kokubo makes his own stock in-house, and the flavors were apparent in this surprisingly well-rounded dish.
Before we move on, one other thing to note is that Kokubo is totally down to make dishes on a whim in order to accommodate anyone's dietary restrictions or mood. (For example, if you have picky kids? He'll make them something they enjoy). Case in point: Even though there were several vegetarian entrees on the menu, Kokubo offered to make me and the other vegetarian at the table a little something special. A similar farfalle dish was already on the menu, but Kokubo recommended having it with his homemade gnocchi (not all of the pasta is made in-house, but the gnocchi - and the occasional pasta specials - are). The gnocchi was tossed in a garlic cream sauce with shiitake, crimini, and oyster mushrooms, as well as spinach and leeks ($15).
I'm not embarrassed to say I ate every last bite of this dish. The gnocchi was incredibly delicate and light, and the sharp Parmesan cheese grated over every bite was the ideal way to round out this dish. The meaty, well-cooked mushrooms and the surprisingly light cream sauce just added to this plate's perfection. If no one else was around, I would have licked my plate clean. Seriously.
Another dish that came highly recommended to me was the Vegetable Tasting Plate ($17, smaller portion pictured).
The Vegetable Tasting plate was a warm, cohesive dish comprised of radishes, herb roasted fingerling potatoes, shredded kale, lightly dressed arugula, asparagus, and creamy lentils. Most of the time, "veggie tasting plates" are deconstructed, raw cop outs (in my experience) for vegetarian entrees. But at Kitchen on Common, this vegetarian dish was well thought-out, incredibly well-seasoned and flavorful, and chock-full of varying textures and flavors that complemented one another beautifully.
For dessert, Chef Kokubo brought us out some Flourless Chocolate Cake and Lemon Mousse with Luxardo cherries.
The chocolate cake was more like a fudge, swimming in a pool of creme anglaise. The vanilla from the creme anglaise helped to cut the richness of the decadent chocolate cake beautifully. Since I don't have a big sweet tooth, the Lemon Mousse was my favorite of the two desserts, packed with bright and fresh lemon flavor and tang. The plump Luxardo cherries and the smooth whipped cream that accompanied it were great additions to this flavorful dessert.
Kitchen on Common is B.Y.O.B., but there is a wine and beer shop a few doors down for your convenience.
So...can you tell I had a good meal here? Every dish was 100% spot-on in terms of flavor, presentation, execution, and even price. I have already told Z we need to return ASAP, especially as the menu tends to change with the seasons (Chef Kokubo does source most of his ingredients locally, after all).
Have you ever been to Kitchen on Common before? If so, what's your review?
This meal was complimentary, but all opinions are 100% my own.