Saturday, February 27, 2010

AKA Bistro: An Inside Look

Snails on the children's menu? Certainly daring and nice to see a restaurant willing to let children experience more than grilled cheese or chicken fingers.

I recently posted about the upcoming opening of AKA Bistro, a new restaurant in Lincoln that is a collaboration of Christian Touche, the GM who assisted in opening Ken Oringer’s Clio Restaurant in Boston, as well as managed it for 12 years, and Chef Chris Chung from Uni. The new restaurant will feature Japanese sashimi and traditional Provençal fare, presented separately, with respect for each of the two cuisines.

Yesterday, I had the opportunity to tour the restaurant, while it is still under construction, as well as chat with Christian and Chris about their plans. They were both very pleasant, and obviously passionate about their plans for this new endeavor. Please note that some of what they told me, especially concerning numbers, is still tentative though the actual numbers, if different, should be very close.

The restaurant is located in Lincoln Station, a small shopping area which shares a similar architectural style. There is plenty of available free parking so access won't be an issue. It is located only a few miles off Route 128, just take the Trapelo Road exit, and is easy to find.

Above, is the exterior of the restaurant, and I'll note that at the left side of the picture will be a patio for the summer where about 25-30 diners can eat outside. With its large windows, it will also allow much natural light during the daytime. The right side of the building is the entrance area.

This is the entrance, and if you continued further down the right side, you would be in the rear parking lot. The exterior appears to be largely completed, but the interior still is undergoing extensive work.

This is part of the main dining room, where there will be a large banquette, and it will seat about 42 people. The sashimi bar will seat about 18 people, for a total restaurant capacity of 60 people, more during the summer with the outside patio. There will be an open kitchen and some of the prep work will be done in the basement area due to the lack of additional space on the main floor. They lack a function room, also due to space constraints.

The restaurant will possess the "spirit of a bistro," and will have two different menus, dependent on where you sit, whether in the main dining area or at the sashimi bar. This is not a fusion restaurant, and each cuisine is respected on its own. But, no matter where you sit, you will still get the opportunity to try both cuisines. For example, in the main dining area, the menu will contain about 80% Provençal fare and 20% sashimi. Where as at the sashimi bar, the percentages would be reversed. That will make it much less worrisome about where to sit as both cuisines will be available.

So why present these two cuisines together in the same restaurant? The obvious answer is that each of the owners brings their own unique cuisine to the table. But, it goes deeper than that. Both cuisines have a lengthy culinary tradition, and Christian and Chris feel they are also complementary. For example, in bistros it is often common to begin with a seafood platter, and the sashimi thus could fill that place. Both cuisines also rely on fresh, local ingredients.

The menu will change seasonally, although certain staple dishes, like Beef Bourguignon, will always be available. Plus, there will be daily specials, dependent on what is available at market. There will be a traditional black board where all of those specials are noted. They will source many ingredients locally, whenever possible, considering availability and price. Farms in Lincoln, and surrounding communities, will benefit. But, no matter the source, everything will still be organic and from small farms rather from the huge factory farms.

Above, the kitchen area will be to the back and you can also see Christian working, doing some painting. Christian and Chris appear to be very hands-on with this new restaurant.

The menu is likely to have about 10-12 appetizers, 10-12 entrees and 7-8 desserts. Appetizers will generally be priced $7-$18 and entrees from $20-$29. The intent of the restaurant is to make it affordable for most people, while also catering to those who wish to splurge. For example, they will carry Wagyu beef from Japan, which is quite an expensive but delicious item, and it will be priced outside of the above average. Yet that is understandable and the average person will still find plenty on the menu to enjoy within the average price range.

The restaurant is not catering to any specific demographic. They want to make it accessible and attractive to everyone, from families to business men, from a place for a romantic date to a place to go with your buddies after work.

You will find some more adventurous items on the menu, from bone marrow to frog's legs. Charcuterie will be made on the premises, from pates to duck prosciutto. Desserts will also be made in house, and will include many traditional items, as well as some with an Asian flair made by Chef Chung. The children's menu will be a bit different from the norm, more of a gourmet menu for the kiddies, including dishes like snails and sashimi, though there will be a couple usual dishes too, like mac n' cheese. The nontraditional menu though is meant to educate children, to offer them something new to experience.

The sashimi menu will include various types of sashimi as well as cooked items but they will not carry nigiri sushi or maki rolls. Chef Chung currently has over 600 unique recipes for the sashimi menu so he is not likely to run out of ideas any time soon. The seafood will be both local and imported, and one of Chef Chung's primary considerations is health, trying to carry seafood which he feels is healthier for the consumer. Though Chef Chung is concerned as well about sustainability, he is willing to make some concessions for the consumer.

AKA Bistro will be the first in the Boston area to feature Kindai bluefin tuna from Japan. Kindai is different in that it is farm raised from the egg, making it a better alternative to wild-caught bluefin, but it still is not sustainable. Chef Chung acknowledges that though he believes Kindai is better because it has far less mercury, so it is safer for diners. Please note that Kindai tuna is currently expensive, especially considering how little is now available.

Chef Chung also stated that they will serve some wild-caught bluefin as well, because the demand is there. The consumer will be given options, to purchase it or not. So some of the other sashimi on the menu might not be sustainable either. This might not please some who were hoping that the restaurant might serve only sustainable seafood. Yet it does point out how the demand affects what many restaurants will stock. So, if the demand for nonsustainable seafood drastically decreased, then maybe more restaurants would move toward only sustainable items.

The restaurant possesess only a wine and beer license, and will not have a "bar" area or any wide-screen television. It is not intended to be the type of place where you hang out, drink and watch sports. They will carry about 80-100 wines, and the stock will rotate continuously, so there will always be something new. They will carry many smaller producers, as well as some local wines, such as Turtle Creek, which is actually located in Lincoln and is one of my favorite Massachusetts wineries. Wines by the bottle will generally be around the $30s, with some high-end wines at a commensurately increased price. Wines by the glass, about 12-16 choices, will run around $7-$16.

They will also carry Saké (good news to me), hard cider and a variety of beers, both domestic and imported. You will also be able to order some inventive cocktails, made from what they can sell. Maybe there will be a Saké cocktail made with Yuzu, or even a beer cocktail. It could be quite intriguing to see what they create.

The restaurant is tentatively scheduled to open around March 22, though that is provided that everything comes together in time and as expected. Any changes to that opening date should be minimal, maybe by a week or so. Let us keep our fingers crossed.

Initially, they will only be open for dinner. As time passes, they will then open for lunch and eventually brunch on Saturdays and Sundays. By September, they even hope to make take-out available. This would allow the commuter rail passengers to stop there on their way home from work and pick up their dinner. They would be able to order online so everything would be ready for them when they arrived.

I am excited about this new restaurant and eagerly look forward to their opening next month.

What are your thoughts about this forthcoming place?

AKA Bistro
145 Lincoln Rd.
Lincoln, MA

1 comment:

Wine Advisory Group, LLC said...

Based on the people involved in this exciting new venture... I'd say it can't miss. I can't wait for it to open and wish them much success.