Does Reservoir Raise the Bar on Uptown Bar Eats?
If you find yourself thirsty in Uptown, there are a few great options with craft-focused lists—Bar on Buena and Fat Cat come to mind. But if you're hungry, too? Both of those spots offer good pub fare (wings, burgers, cheesy dips, et cetera) and more creative dishes as well, but little to appeal to gastronomes.
Reservoir, which opened last year, has an ambition to take its food up a step from Uptown's everyman vibe. Think flat iron steak salad with Mexican aioli; lamb burger with roasted red peppers and tzatziki; mussels in a Maine white ale; or beets with pistachios and honey. Yet there's an odd combination of high and low-brow going on that I couldn't quite nail down. It could be a kink in the branding of this young spot, or just a mission to appeal to every kind of patron who may wander in from the eclectic neighborhood.
To give an example—if I am reading the menu correctly, then the goat cheese listed in the asparagus e porcini flatbread ($8) is Chavrie, which is the very mild and inexpensive kind you can get at a major grocer in a pyramid-shaped cardboard box. I have nothing against cardboard pyramids or accessible goat cheese whatsoever, but it's kind of like a chef listing "Campbell's" in the tasting notes for tomato bisque; i.e., not the usual bragging point. As with all of the other dishes I tried, I was confused. But that didn't make it taste any less delicious with my abbey ale. The crust had a satisfying crunch, and the chevre—dressed up back in the kitchen, I suspect—carried the asparagus and mushroom flavors with a salty tang.
Reservoir has a rotation of weeknight specials, and it happened to be taco night when I came. And although a fresh house taco for $2 and a $3 can of Modelo isn't a bad way to start a Thursday evening, I opted to try the fish tacos ($10) that had earned a spot on the place's permanent menu.
They arrived in a bursting trio, and from the corn tortillas tumbled a fillet's worth of dry fried tilapia cubes. In looks and taste, they don't fall far from the fish sticks factory, and needless to say, I was disappointed when I saw them. But my feelings were curbed somewhat by the taco's toppings, which overturn the bland fish and steer the meal with their own assertive flavors and textures. The elotes-style heap of off-the-cob sweet corn swimming in spiced mayonnaise provides the dominant flavor, with thick lemony sour cream and drizzle of deep salsa verde atop.
Like the fish tacos, the Reservoir fries ($7) start with a so-so raw material—here, a pile of fast food-shaped, uniformly thin, blonde fries. (Since I admit everyone differs on the perfect fry, I'll offer full disclosure here: I like mine in big hand-cut wedges, skin-on if we can, with a burnt edge here and there.) But even if this is a less-than-ideal canvas to start with, the kitchen dresses it up with the finger-licking dual umami power of white truffle oil and Parmesan cheese. So—as with the fish tacos—I couldn't stop eating them. The salty cheese is delicately grated so that it clings to every fry, and needs no dip. (Although if you insist, Reservoir has a very spicy ketchup, which would be weird, and a roasted garlic aioli, which pairs well.)
The bacon trend has gotten an extension on its life via pork belly, and its presence on the menu is a declaration of Reservoir's higher-end culinary intentions ($11). The subtly smoky square is braised until tender, then the top is broiled to a lovely thick, crisp crust that practically shatters when you bite in. A buttery swipe of pureed parsnips adds sweetness and a tiny hint of vanilla, while the tartness of port-poached apples rounds off the plate. Reservoir has had this pork belly on the menu since opening its doors, and it, for one, does not have an identity problem. It's the upper-end ying to the fish-cube yang. And although they seem to belong to different concepts entirely, I'd eat either one again.