These days, Decatur is the hotspot for interesting new restaurants…the latest, Kimball House, brought to us by the guys behind the wildly popular Brick Store Pub. One cold evening in December, I met friends BB, owner of There Brookhaven, and his bar manager D for a culinary outing.
Walking into Kimball House, I felt like I had stepped through a time-warp into another era. Tiny black and white tiles spell out the restaurant’s name at the doorway. The dim amber lighting reflected off vintage mirrors and antique gold trimmings. Six ceiling fans that run on a pulley system are suspended above the polished wood bar and tufted dark brown leather banquettes were packed with gentrified guests, the kind that regularly order cocktails made with rye or absynthe. This was our kind of place.
The staff was smartly dressed in plaid shirts, aprons, and fashionably nerdy black glasses, which has become commonplace at the trendiest restaurants. Urban Outfitters anyone? We sat at the bar awaiting a table, but as we often do, chose to stay there. I skipped the absynthe in favor of a Mezcal Fix made with mezcal, pear, dolin genepi, cinnamon, and lime. I’m sure BB ordered a bourbon cocktail, although which one eludes me, and D ordered his regular Coke.
Moving on to food, many of the plates are sized to share. We started with the cold-smoked halibut tartine, two slices of sourdough topped with black olive puree, grapefruit, pickled mushrooms, and red beets. It was a bit fishy for me and to be honest, a small portion for $9. BB insisted on the sauteed sweetbreads with pumpkin puree, oat granola, maitake, and mustard greens. Again, not my favorite, but he was smitten.
D ordered the parmesan cheese straws, ironically listed under vegetables. Aside from the sweetbreads, we tried three additional dishes from the meat section. Unfortunately, the smoked duck breast wasn’t one of them since they sold out earlier in the evening. Instead, we tried the Thai sausage, Italian pork sausage, and chicken roulade. We rounded out our meat selections with one actual veggie dish, hoppin’ John and mushrooms.
Of those four dishes, I assumed the Thai sausage accompanied by bok choy, pickled daikon, kimchi vinaigrette, and cilantro would be my favorite since I adore kimchi and cilantro, however, the flavors didn’t pop like I expected. I preferred the Italian pork sausage with baby collard greens and subtly sweet champagne apples. Also good was the succulent chicken roulade, smartly paired with lion’s mane mushrooms, kale, and acorn squash, perfect on a cold winter’s night.
Traditionally, hoppin’ John is made with black eyed peas and rice. At Kimball House, it was a medley of broccoli, parsnips, celery, and Brussels sprouts with a scant quantitiy of black beans and rice. Priced at $15, I’m assuming the dish was intended as a vegetarian entree, in which case the kitchen needs to add more substance.
Kimball House also offers a large selection of raw oysters and classic caviar service, along with a well-edited wine list. Not thrilled with my first cocktail, I switched to champagne at an affordable $8 per glass.
We never skip dessert, and often have a hard time narrowing the choices down to just one or two. So, we ordered a tasting of three…a traditional vanilla creme brulee, delicate mille feuille, and an ice cream sandwich made with thin chocolate wafers and pistachio semi-freddo. The latter was my choice but turned out to be my least favorite of the trio, while the other desserts fared better.
Kimball House definitely scores points on ambiance, but I was less impressed with the food. However, it is certainly worth a second visit. I’ll cross my fingers for the smoked duck.
303 E. Howard Avenue 404-378-3502