When I heard that the people behind one of my all-time favorite Chicago restaurants, Nellcote, opened a sustainable fish and seafood restaurant, I was intrigued. Kinmont opened just a few weeks ago in the River North space that previously housed Zealous.
Kinmont derives its name from a 19th century fly-fishing lure that early sustainable fishermen used to catch artisan salmon. In keeping with that theme, the restaurant serves primarily locally sourced fish from the Great Lakes. The menu is rounded out with some choice selections from both the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, including oysters, Maine lobster and Alaskan crab legs.
The remodeled space is very dark, with just a few small windows opening onto Superior Street. The cool industrial space is warmed with antique-inspired touches like gold chandeliers and ornate rugs that are hung, whimsically, on the ceiling rather than the floor. Kinmont doesn't veer into kitschy nautical decor. Classic blue striped napkins and a few hanging lanterns are the only nods to a seaside theme. This restaurant knows it's in the Midwest and it's quite comfortable with that.
There's an ample selection of appetizing starters. In addition to raw oysters by the dozen and chilled seafood like shrimp cocktail, you'll also find several unique hot appetizers. The Door County whitefish chowder is the Midwestern answer to New England's clams, and boy, does this soup succeed. The rich and creamy base is loaded with lots of mild whitefish and tender chunks of potato. Small bits of bacon and plenty of fresh chives render the soup at once hearty, but fresh tasting. It's sprinkled with a few crisp and buttery oyster crackers, a cut above the standard variety that comes in little plastic packages.
Slightly less impressive, but still good, is the crab gratin. This sizzling hot starter has everything it should need to be phenomenalfresh crab meat, aged cheddar, chives and potatoesbut it misses the mark with a soupy consistency and a tad too much salt. And, the gratin is regrettably served with saltines for dipping. I understand the chef's desire to make the gratin relatable and comforting with such a humble cracker but, frankly, the rich dip would benefit from a more delicate crostini.
As is so often the case, the best starter at Kinmont is the simplest. In this case, it's the house rolls and butter. They don't come free of charge like many inferior breads, but $2 buys you a piping hot mini-cast iron pan filled with four freshly baked sourdough rolls. They taste like they are made with loveand lots and lots of butter. They are a little greasy to the touch, but don't let that stop you from slathering them with the house-cultured butter. It's whipped super-soft and sprinkled with sea salt, and when you eat it, all is right with the world.
Don't let the robust appetizer menu fool you. Kinmont is not a small-plate restauranta refreshing change in our shared plate-obsessed culture. You can go retro and actually order your very own entree. Fresh fish is the name of the game. Instead of filets that have traveled for days ( or longer ) from one of the coasts, Kinmont serves up fish that's caught right here in the Midwest, like trout. If you order one of the simply prepared catches of the day, add on some sides like sauteed kale or charred beets. The bar menu is craft beer heavy, which is exactly what you want to drink with this kind of hearty and straightforward food.
There's also a small selection of clever fish-focused entrees. I really enjoyed smoked trout "Reuben." The sandwich starts with two marbled slices of homemade rye that are butter very liberally and grilled to a nice crisp. Smoked trout makes a refreshing substitute for corned beef, especially with plenty of crisp sauerkraut and tangy Thousand Island dressing. The Reuben is served with a heaping mound of hot and fresh French fries, which are good enough, but the Reuben is the undeniable star of the show. My one criticism is that the sandwich was a bit on the salty side, a theme that recurred throughout my meal.
Also worth ordering is the squid-ink spaghetti. The pasta has a thicker, doughy consistency that lets you know it's homemade. In addition to coloring the pasta black, the squid ink lends a briny flavor. The spaghetti is dressed simply with lemon juice, mint and red chile, which combine to form an unexpectedly delicious and light flavor profile. The pasta is so good that the relatively small shrimp it's served with don't do it justice. The shrimp were fresh and flavorful enough, but pasta this good deserves a larger, more succulent prawn or two.
The dessert menu is limited to two American classicsapple pie and chocolate chip cookies. The apple pie is served with cheddar cheese sauce, to which I am ideologically opposed. But if you like that sort of thing, I imagine it's fabulous at Kinmont. I opted instead for the chocolate chip cookies, which are soft and chewy. They are elevated just a notch with lots of rich dark chocolate. The cookies are served with ovaltine butter cream for dunking. It's a cute touch, but it doesn't actually add much flavor.
I envision long-lasting success for Kinmont. The staff is warm and welcoming, the food is inspired ( and buttery! ), and you know exactly where the fish comes from. It's the kind of place you can feel good about eating at over and over again.
Kinmont is at 419 W. Superior St.; call 312-915-0011 or visit www.kinmontrestaurant.com .
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