Red Feather Kitchen

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APR14_Dine_Red_Feather

Photograph by Aaron M. Conway/OMS Photography

Walk through the door of Red Feather Kitchen and you find yourself in a cheerful, brightly lit room with rustic brick walls and a newly installed bar built out of 100-year-old white oak that feels like it’s been here for as long as the building has been standing. The room opens out to a more subdued dining area with gauzy white curtains and an upholstered powder-blue banquette. That shift, from bright and loud to soft and quiet, is something you notice the longer you linger—not just in the thoughtful re-do of the restaurant’s interior but on the menu, where large-scale cuts of meat (described with manly flair as “Tomahawk” and “Hatchet”) are paired with delicately prepared side dishes.

Co-owners and childhood friends Brad Bernstein and Brett Crowe, along with General Manager Devon Barrett, appear to revel in this stylistic two-step, offering up dishes of high-end comfort grounded in skillful preparation and a keen awareness of seasonality. Both chefs are longtime veterans of upscale dining—Bernstein locally at Lavomatic and Zula (where he met Barrett), and Crowe in more far-flung environs, among them Everest in Chicago, Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s Spice Market in London and New York, and Maisonette under Jean-Robert de Cavel.

The restaurant’s name taps into Bernstein’s paternal pedigree: His family owns BB Riverboats, and he cut his culinary baby teeth washing dishes and cooking on the line at The Mike Fink. Fink, an 18th century riverboat character known for the easy-to-spot red feather he wore in his hat, would have approved of the large, wood-burning oven that anchors Red Feather’s kitchen. Originally installed by Boca, the former inhabitant, this old-school cooking method is definitely having a moment right now, but for Crowe and Bernstein it’s less marketing shtick, more man mastering fire.

That does not mean that Red Feather is only about caveman cuts cooked over open flame; the chefs exercise their earthy side, too. You can taste the terroir in the beet salad—sweet, generous chunks of red and yellow beets mixed with peppery arugula, a handful of candied hazelnuts tossed in for crunch. The prosciutto salad is a similar study in flavor and textural contrasts, a bold and piquant sherry vinaigrette cutting the bitterness of baby kale and the eye-rolling richness of the cured meat.

The Wellfleet oysters, sourced directly from a small broker on Cape Cod, are a must, especially this time of year—but don’t let the sharp shallot and champagne vinegar mignonette overpower them. The bivalves I had were just fine without it, plump and succulent with a briny, mineral-laced aftertaste. The “to share” plates of shishito peppers highlight Crowe’s experience with Asian flavors. Plated simply—stem on, served in a soup bowl—most were delicious, sweetly blistered for a few seconds in the oven and lightly dressed with a sesame-soy-wasabi vinaigrette, though I learned the hard way that one out of every 10 possess a searing heat, which left me gun-shy for the remainder of the bowl.

Red Feather’s four-seat chef’s counter (in the main dining room) is an ideal perch for observing the kitchen—Crowe calmly calling out the tickets while Bernstein finishes the plates, their small crew putting the fruitwood-fueled oven and new Argentine parrilla grill through their paces. Dining during the height of the polar vortex, their winter menu hit most of the right notes. The beef short ribs (sourced from Eckerlin Meats) were braised in a roasted-ginger infused chicken broth and accompanied by a smooth, herbaceous celery root puree and hunks of root vegetables. The Butcher’s Cut I had (it changes daily) was a well-marbled 12-ounce New York strip grilled to temperature and served with a red wine jus, al dente broccolini, and a generous scoop of Yukon Gold mashed potatoes. The roast chicken, sourced from Hill Family Farm in Xenia, Ohio, is initially roasted in the oven, then gets a final finish on a ripping hot cast iron pan, crisping the skin and sealing in the bird’s juices. A medley of shredded, pan-seared Brussels spouts and florets of caramelized cauliflower added roasty sweetness alongside a pool of coarse white grits.

After all those unpretentious, rib-sticking main dishes, do they ease up on the pedal when it comes to desserts? Uh-uh. Generous and rich are the watchwords here. Case in point: the rum raisin bread pudding, which lived up to our server’s enthusiastic praise. The soft, raisin-flecked pullman loaf was still moist with eggy custard and finished with a rum-infused glaze.

Red Feather’s wine program reflects the commitment of General Manager Devon Barrett and Bar Manager Kory Lynn, both Level II sommeliers who have amassed an impressively diverse 400-bottle list. Special focus is given to pinot noirs from the Sonoma coast and syrahs from the northern Rhône Valley. But according to Lynn, their real “passion project” is German Rieslings; he jokes that they have “a riesling for every course.” The bar employs a Cruvinet system for most glass pours, allowing them to keep up to 12 bottles on tap. The slight downside: A wine program this ambitious makes higher demands on the waitstaff. While service was warm and consistently gracious, wine knowledge was spotty at best. Barrett insists that wine training is both his biggest joy—and biggest headache.

While Crowe and Bernstein’s allegiance to pedigreed comfort food is apparent, their real strength is subtly merging big and bold with delicate and nuanced. This dance between yin and yang should keep diners’ palates stimulated and allow the chefs’ ambitions to keep evolving, hitting their New American stride with the turn of each season.

Red Feather Kitchen, 3200 Madison Rd., Oakley, (513) 407-3631, redfeatherkitchen.com

Originally published in the April 2014 issue.

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