My wife and I go out to dinner a lot — with children in tow. So when we get a night to ourselves, we make the most of it. To pack as much into the evening as possible, we do our version of a pub crawl, but with really good food involved. We choose three to five restaurants, preferably places with fantastic appetizers or small plates, good drinks, and a great bar at which to enjoy them. We try to keep abreast of new menus and theme changes to see who will be on our next dance card. Six Burner, with its new menu focused on tapas-style dining, caught our eye this time.
Now, Six Burner is not a new restaurant, but for some reason, I’d never been there, so it’s new to me. No preconceptions here. The new menu? I found it pretty exciting, with grain and vegetable dishes, fish, and shellfish, plus an array of meats in various preparations. To me, it was the perfect way to sample, taste and enjoy the food without committing to one heavy entrée. Were they able to pull off all these dishes well? Actually, yes.
The vegetable and grain section of the menu can be tricky; it’s not entirely meat-free, so tread lightly if you’re a vegetarian. The rustic polenta was our favorite dish; it was smooth, yet just a tad coarse, and simple, flavored only with olive oil and Parmesan. At $4, it was a huge portion, but little remained in the end. The potato gnocchi with seasonal mushrooms, shiitake in our case, wasn’t quite as large a portion but, like a number of the other plates we tried, it was seasoned so strongly with fines herbes (a blend used in French cooking) that you wouldn’t want such a large portion. Is that bad? No. If you’re quaffing wine or craft cocktails and sharing a dish, you want the heavy hand to tickle your alcohol-dulled taste buds, as long as you can still taste the creamy gnocchi and the woodsy mushrooms — which we could. (Would this be a good time to mention that the Cilantro Gimlet paired perfectly with the gnocchi? Complementary flavors with a cayenne-sugar rim made the drink as tasty as the sauté in front of me.)
In the seafood section, the Gruyère and bacon threatened to overpower the creamy, mild mussels. The salty bacon, combined with the strong cheese, went right to the edge but not over, especially with a slightly acidic Willow Crest Pinot Gris to wash it down. And, yes, there was crispy bread to sop up the juices.
Quail can be a difficult little bird, both to cook and to eat. Six Burner grills them. I wish they had deboned the quail a bit more, but there is something primeval about tearing into a tiny bird with tangy vinegar juices running down your chin. With some beautifully grilled brown turkey figs to add sweetness to the tang, the result is a dish you tell people about.
OK, so the quail was good, but then we got to the beef crépinettes. If you’ve ever watched the Japanese version of Iron Chef, you know the basics of a crépinette, which is minced meat wrapped in a netting of fat, a caul. It looks odd, but the result, after being sautéed in butter, is amazing. The fat slowly liquifies and bastes the meat. Serve it with a foie gras créme and scattered fresh blueberries, and you have your own little Iron Chef dish.
But even with a recent facelift (click here to read more about that), Six Burner’s décor doesn’t quite lend itself to the sharing atmosphere. Just a little stuffy, with white tablecloths and some remaining booths, it seems more like fine dining except at the bar, where the walls and the outgoing personalities of the bartenders take it down a notch.
To commit to the open and sharing atmosphere that the food encourages, the restaurant needs to loosen up a little. I would break down the booths, lose the starched linen and create a more casual flow so that the person at the next table can lean over and say, “You’ve got to try this dish.”
Oh, and if the dishes aren’t quite the same as I described, don’t worry. The culinary team, led by chef Philip Denny, refines the menu almost daily. A restaurant that dumps or alters a dish because it can’t get quite the freshest or highest quality ingredient that day is a good thing.
1627 W. Main St., 353-4060
Prices: Small plates $4 to $14, larger plates $13 to $19.
Hours: 5:30 to 9:30 p.m. Monday to Thursday, 5:30 to 10:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday.