I don't think I've ever heard anyone talk about restaurants they care about in Hyde Park. Instead, you usually hear people profess how little they care for the local options. Admittedly, Hyde Park's restaurant scene is about as hip and happening as people who use the phrase "hip and happening" un-ironically. But with the opening of A10 by Matthias Merges, there might actually be something worth caring about.
I stepped into the restaurant with the college-student mentality, fastidiously questioning anything that cost me more than $10. If I am going to spend well more than two or three days worth of food money (not just dinner money, mind you), it better damn-well be worth it. I'd say, for the most part, it was.
The only night I could get a reservation for was Sunday. Upon arriving, I learned that their Sunday menu is slightly different. Either way, I'd imagine that the consistency of the cooking is pretty even across the board, regardless of the menu.
We started with the Smoked Salmon Pizza ($8.00). This was not a pizza in the traditional sense. Instead, somewhere in the deep, dark corners of the kitchen, I'm pretty sure a perfectly salty New York bagel and a piece of focaccia bore a child together. Simple lox was brought to the goldilocks zone of almost, but not too salty with the addition of more capers than I've ever seen on a dinner plate. A fried egg's richness balanced out the salt as the yolk ran all over the pizza. The bread was hearty enough to hold up to all the ingredients, but not overpowering. All well worth the money.
We then moved on to the Pork Belly ($15.00). This is what you want to see when you order pork belly—just a thick slab of white fat lying across the plate. It came with another well-executed fried egg over a bed of creamed kale. I would have liked the pork to be a little crispier to bring out some contrast in the dish, but, otherwise, I was happy. I wanted a dish full of fat and that's what was brought to the table. If you're being mindful of money, maybe not your best option in terms of the amount of food you're getting. Nevertheless, the dish delivered on taste.
A10's burger ($12.00) was probably my favorite dish of the night. It was, perhaps, the very definition of bang for your buck (another phrase, that, along with "hip and happening," should never be said aloud). The fries were crisp, but nothing remarkable. That's because the real star of the dish was the burger itself. Crispy bacon and pork jowl are made richer with some Taleggio cheese and a tangy mustard jam. The whole thing is served up on a brioche bun. While I normally prefer crispier, heartier breads, the buttery and soft brioche did a brilliant job sopping up all the juices of the burger. One of my roommates commented that this dish alone made A10 a perfect restaurant for a date in Hyde Park: "Take a girl to A10. Order the burger and spend 12 bucks. She's impressed by the fancy restaurant and you get to eat a delicious burger. Everybody's happy."
Unfortunately, the braised rabbit ($22.00) was under-seasoned and brought to the table lukewarm. I'd chalk this one up to the restaurant's having been open only one month. I think once they hit their stride all the dishes will be up to par. But, for now at least, $22 is more than I'm willing to pay for a dish that elicits a hardly audible "eh" after the first bite.
However, the meal ended with the restaurant's putting its best foot forward. I have liked three donuts in my life. One of them was at A10. From where we were sitting, all the way across from the kitchen, we could hear the doughnuts being dropped into the fryer. I am quite literally salivating as I write this sentence, just thinking about this dessert. The olive oil doughnuts (5.00) had a subtle flavor, less cakey than most doughnuts. The outsides were crisp, made crunchier by granulated sugar. The insides....well, suffice it to say that I think I finally understand what other food-writers are referring to when they describe things as "pillowy."
As all other good meals do, this one ended with chocolate. The chocolate bouchon (8.00) was described by our waiter as "something between a brownie and a cake." It was thick, fudgy, and, most importantly, quite chocolatey. The sweetness was countered by dollops of toasted merengue, but, really, the point of the dish was the towering bouchon.
I'd say, give it about a month and then start heading to A10 in droves. If you order right, you can get some of the best food Hyde Park has to offer without spending too much more than you would anywhere else.
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