Among the bumper crop of welcome new restaurants sprouting up around Harbor East, Fleet Street Kitchen arrives with a promising pedigree. Fleet Street, which opened in September 2012, is the latest entry in a trio of restaurants owned by the Bagby Restaurant Group, a family-run business founded by Sinclair Broadcast Group’s David Smith. Smith, for whom restaurateuring is a passion, has staked his company’s fortunes on the risky concept of offering three interrelated but distinct dining experiences in one venue (in this case, the eponymous Bagby Building). The overwhelming success of the casual Bagby Pizza Co. and Ten Ten, its next-door bistro, have made it clear that Smith’s betting instincts are as sound about restaurants as they are with TV stations.
Now, with Fleet Street posing a more upscale alternative to its sister establishments, it seems he’s about to pull off a trifecta.
Sporting an eclectic look that mixes repurposed, rough-hewn wood and crystal chandeliers with splashes of tartan, Fleet Street feels elegant without being stuffy. Executive chef Chris Becker (formerly of The Wine Market) has fashioned a destination restaurant, where you can nosh on grass-fed burgers and fresh coddies at the bar or indulge in an appetizer of luscious butter-poached lobster in one of the stylish dining rooms.
A young, enthusiastic staff and the informal vibe of a lively exhibition kitchen in the back mitigate the formality of the white tablecloths and posh floral arrangements; the kitchen’s execution and impeccable plating offer a polished take on the farm-to-table ethos. (Most products are locally sourced, many from the Smith family’s own Cunningham Farms.) And the compact menu—11 appetizers, 11 entrees, four sides, and a small selection of sweet and savory desserts—boasts such an embarrassment of innovative riches that you feel grateful there isn’t even more to choose from.
A selection of artisanal cocktails provides a fitting preview for attractions to come. Craft cocktails are ubiquitous on menus these days, but Fleet Street’s are exceptional. The Warning Shot, for example, is a smoky concoction of pumpkin-infused white whiskey, Americano, chocolate bitters, and salt that hints of holidays and banked winter fires. It’s a worthy accompaniment for the buttery rosemary scones and crackling fresh rolls that arrive at the table as soon as you order.
You could, if you wanted, make a meal by selecting from the heartier appetizers—a creamy pork belly topped with fried egg and crispy potato crumble or duck confit, its richness cut with tart rhubarb. Or begin with a composed salad of refreshing heirloom beets, the ruby gems made even earthier with pine-nut butter and sparked with Winesap apples and homemade yogurt.
Entrees are divided nearly evenly among seafood, meat, and fowl. Fish is treated with a deft hand, especially the clever halibut “chowda,” a playful version of the New England stew minus the soupy element, its creamy “chowder” white sauce studded with sweet white turnips and delicate pale green elements of pea shoot and celery. The line-caught grouper was just a tad overcooked, but the element it swam in—a combination of clams, briny taggiasca olives, and piquillo-pepper sauce—was supernal. Braised beef short ribs were perfectly cooked, their texture tender enough to carve with a spoon. A mound of rustic farro, a smear of date purée, and roasted heirloom carrots provided perfect counterpoints to the savory beef.
There’s only one vegetarian item among the entrees, but it’s a stunner. “Crispy farm egg and ricotta gnudi” (that last a sort of inside-out ravioli) sounds fairly straightforward, but the dish is anything but. The aforesaid egg arrives atop a pile of smooth, golf-ball-sized dumplings that look like giant marbles but surprise with a cloudlike texture that melts in the mouth. That egg has been cooked for six minutes, coated with panko crumbs, and flash fried so that the crisp exterior yields to a warm, slightly runny egg yolk that mingles with the tender dumplings. It’s a dish even a meat eater will fall in love with.
There’s plenty of reason to save room for dessert, even if you prefer savory to sweet. Standard cheese selections are transformed into smart little concoctions like Bleu Affine cheese parfait with candied walnuts and sous-vide apples, or a tiny grilled cheddar sandwich and tomato jam. Straightforward chocolate cravers will swoon over the chocolate rum soup dotted with cubes of light-as-air semifreddo, white sweet-potato purée, and cider-braised figs. (Drooling yet?)
Although we’d wish for a few more lower-priced selections, the extensive wine list contains some very interesting offerings that are cleverly presented on a convenient iPad. It’s an elegant solution to the bulky, awkward wine book and goes perfectly with Fleet Street Kitchen’s dedication to making the diner’s experience as deeply pleasurable as its eye-catching surrounds.