When we made our reservation, I had no intention of writing a review for a restaurant that had just opened it's doors. They had only been open for 2 days when we went, so we weren't expecting a whole lot. What we got is likely to be a our new favorite restaurant in town.
To be honest, I was worried about the Boiler Room before they opened. Being outside of the main Old Market quad blocks, I wasn't sure they would get enough traffic to keep their doors open. I no longer think that's going to be a problem. I think they set the bar high enough that people won't forget about it, and those not in the downtown area will be willing to make the trek beyond just those special occasion nights.
Unfortunately my first impression wasn't exactly favorable. Parking was difficult, even on a Thursday night. We ended up in the parking garage on Jackson Street. They might want to start offering parking validation if they're unable to find another solution.
As we stepped into the restaurant, I was reminded of how cool the inside is. One of the first things one will notice is the general layout. The main dining room is situated above the bar and kitchen with an open view to both. It provides great visual interest complemented by the exposed brick and support structures. I think they did a good job of mixing the historic patina of the original space with the more modern elements.
The other thing that is hard to miss is the gigantic photographic prints on the walls. The still lifes, altered to look much like paintings, feature various food items in various states of preparation. For example, our table was situated in front of a work displaying a pig's head on a table with some flowers
. Though my wife conceded that it was a nice picture, she could have done without a large eye socket looking at her all night.
As we were seated, I was surprised by two things. First the chairs - which I'm still undecided about. When you first sit down, they tilt back very quickly and deeply. I felt as if I was going to get dumped on the floor, though no such thing was going to happen. Butt cheek muffin top, however, did happen. The actual seat is rather shallow and doesn't align with the back of the chair, so if you're sitting back all the way, expect some hang over. That said, the chairs were very comfortable for the almost 2 hours we were there.
The second thing that surprised me was seeing the white tablecloths. I was under the impression that The Boiler Room was going to be a little more casual. The dress and interaction of the wait staff confirmed I was a little misguided. Not that there's anything wrong with that, but I'm glad I didn't show up in a T-Shirt and tennis shoes. On the flip-side, I would have felt over-dressed in a suit.
The service was about what I would expect for a restaurant that's only been open for two days. Most of the issues we had were minor and were overshadowed by some pleasant surprises in how attentive the service was.
To help with the service, The Boiler Room has brought a Master Sommelier into the fold
. The wine list is large with an emphasis on French producers. Having a sommelier to assist in navigating such a list adds an extra dimension that some diners will really appreciate. The wines that Jesse Becker picked for us were excellent and complemented our dishes well [2007 Dr. Loosen "Dr. L" Riesling, 2005 Domaine De Fonsainte Corbières]. And though I didn't take a look at their cocktail menu, you may want to since I know chef Kulik is trying to do some interesting stuff in that area.
We started off with the crudo of sablefish ($8). The buttery sablefish was laced with braised or grilled radicchio, shavings of a delicious piave de vecchio cheese and a drizzle of tomato oil. This was a nice way to start the meal. It was clean and light, though it took awhile to figure out the correct portion of radicchio and cheese to accompany the sablefish without overpowering it - thus loosing the delicate flavor of the fish. The most impressive thing about this dish was that it was one of the weaker dishes of this meal! I'd rate this dish about an 86/100.
Our other appetizer was probably the strongest dish of the night. The june farm honey glazed pork belly ($10) was cooked almost to perfection. I say almost because one of the bottom meat fibers was crisped so well that it almost pierced my tongue. I did like how the bottom was crisped though, while the fat layers had rendered and the other layers of meat were tender and succulent. It provided a nice contrast in flavors and textures. To further the complexity of flavors, pickled crimini were served atop the pork belly. The acid from these very tart mushrooms provided a great foil to the unctuous pork fat. I'd venture to guess this was a trick chef Kulik picked up while staging
at Avec in Chicago
. The dish was finished with an intensely flavorful cauliflower puree that is one of the best I've had. It wasn't overly creamy or mounted with obscene amounts of butter, so the essence of cauliflower was really all you tasted. And I have to also mention the sauce on the plate - it tasted exactly like the roast duck in Oakland's Chinatown - yumm. I'd rate this dish about 93/100.
About the only misstep we saw from the kitchen was my wife's risotto ($18), parts of which was undercooked. The kitchen re-made her risotto which came out much better the second time. In fact, it was one of the better risotto's we had ever had. Creamy, tender, but nowhere near runny. And surprisingly, they replaced the entire dish. It would have been easy, and possibly justifiable, for them to place her original brisket in the replaced risotto, but they sent out a new piece. The very large hunk of brisket was very beefy, and dare I say, briskety tasting, though the very outer layer seemed a little dry to me. My wife also noted that the 2nd bowl seemed to have more risotto in it, but less truffle oil scent. The risotto was finished with a fried egg and braised kale.
While the kitchen remade the risotto, my wife and I dug into the milk braised pork collar ($19) that I ordered. The generous section of pork was served with parsnips and charred Brussels sprouts swimming in a nice broth, while eggplant caviar rested on top of the collar. One of the first things we did was to try the eggplant caviar on it's own. It was bitter and not very enjoyable, but then we tried it with the pork collar. To my delight, I thought it actually enhanced the pork collar and made it more enjoyable. My wife didn't completely agree, but did find they went well together. Mixing the seeds into the broth and pulling apart the collar made a wonderful stew of sorts. Oh, and Brussels sprouts are just under utilized - period.
We decided to skip the cheese cart and head straight for dessert. Sadly, they only had one dessert on the menu the night we went. Funny enough, it was the one dessert that my wife has stated is too difficult to find in Omaha: panna cotta. The rendition for the night was a saffron panna cotta with jun farm prairie honey and blackberries ($6). This was an interesting dish. Again, neither of us cared for the flavors of the panna cotta on it's own, but with the sweetness of the honey, it was very enjoyable. It was also executed very well. Often panna cotta gets too much gelatin that turns it into something else entirely. The Boiler Room got theirs right, at least on this night.
I can honestly say that I was very surprised - on several fronts. As I said, the table settings and service wasn't quite was I was expecting, but that's not a big deal. The clientele will dictate the service down the line and from what we saw, the clients seem to want to keep the food upscale, but the vibe relaxed. Of course, relaxed is a relative term. The vibe I saw was coffee house with pan roasted monkfish.
The best surprise was the food. It was just their second day being open to the public - are you kidding me? Yes braising and roasting can be very forgiving techniques, but the execution of every dish was done very well. Even more impressive were the dishes put together by chef Kulik. Minimal basic ingredients combined with intelligence and prepared simply. Occasionally you'll see something slightly exotic thrown into a dish to add a needed unique dimension, but I doubt you'll ever see a laundry list of luxury ingredients for a single dish. Chef Kulik seems more focused than a lot of chefs are able to force themselves to be.
A final parting observation. My wife has a saying about Blue Sushi
: "It's where all the pretty people go" - referring to the trendy label mongers that frequent the West Omaha location. She also came up with a similar saying for the Boiler Room: "It's where all the intelligent
pretty people go" - referring to the smartly dressed young professionals and artistic types in the crowd. I think it fits and I can live with that.
DISCLOSURE: I knew both Chef Paul Kulik and Jesse Becker before this restaurant opened and they knew we were coming in that night, so it is possible our experience was not typical, but I do not believe that to be the case.
The Boiler Room -
Make a Reservation
11th & Jones St. (Omaha Old Market)
1110 Jones Street (Map)
Omaha, NE 68102
Phone: (402) 916-9274
Hours of Operation
Open Tuesday through Saturday
Closed Sunday through Monday
Kitchen ~ 5:30 pm - 11:00 pm
Bar ~ Open until 1:00 am
Chef Paul Kulik Video Interview
Jesse Becker joins The Boiler Room
Labels: OMAHA, RESTAURANT REVIEW, RESTAURANTS, REVIEW