The Venue: There are two challenges faced when eating before attending a theater performance: getting portions that are filling to ward off hunger pangs -- yet not overly so to cause drowsiness during the performance; and, speediness of service. For these reasons I tend to grab something to eat at the bar before going to the theater. Prior to a recent performance of The History Boys, I stopped at 14K Restaurant, five blocks north of the Studio Theatre.
The Cast of Characters: On my first outing, I tried the Chesapeake crab cake ($13) served, according to the menu, over creamed spinach and Pommery mustard. Instead, as an uncredited understudy, the supporting side dish was a warm, Southwestern-styled corn salad and a crisp roll filled with guacamole and garnished with an orchid. The crab cake was good -- not too much filler, lumps of crab – but the corn salad – with flecks of pancetta, tossed in a roasted, tomato vinaigrette – was even better and complimented the crab nicely.
On another visit, I ordered the steamed mussels ($14) in a white wine, herb broth. Yet, I couldn't figure out what herbs were used; there wasn't a speck of green in the broth. The mussels were bought out in a large, 3-quart Dutch oven, overwhelming the pound or so of mussels. Perched on top of the mussels was a lone piece of toasted cheese bread; not enough to sop up the broth. However, in my book, you can rarely go wrong with mussels.
Both meals were served with bread. On one occasion, the basket contained two types of rolls: sourdough and rye; on another, pretzel bread sticks as well as the sourdough rolls. The bread, especially the sourdough, was quite good. But answer me this: how does bread come out of the kitchen steaming? Were they served hot from the oven?
Performance: Unlike table dining, there are certain risks inherent in sitting and dining at a bar. If the bar is crowded, you'll have a tough time getting the bartender's attention. At other times, when the bar is slow, the staff is either busy setting-up or nonexistent. At 14K, there is an additional challenge: the bar is a circle, bisected by the drink station. On one occasion, while the bartender was servicing one side, the other side was being neglected. I had a hard time attracting his, or anyone's, attention to get water, ask about the corn salad, inquire about my meal and get the check. The other time, the staff hovered; whisking away the bowl anytime it contained five or more discarded mussel shells.
The pace of the kitchen left a lot to be desired. On my two visits, it took an average of 20 minutes, once ordered, for food to arrive. Maybe my own timing was off; I had allotted 45 minutes for a somewhat leisurely, yet quick, meal before show time. I know now to build in additional time in order not to feel rushed.
Set Design: 14K takes great pride in appearance and presentation. The room is light and airy with lots of open space. The circular bar provides a semi-restricted view of the hotel lobby or the restaurant. Albeit located on a busy, rush hour intersection, the outdoor dining patio is ideal for people watching. The kitchen does take great care in plating and showcasing the meal. A single orchid graces the guacamole roll, or a slice of bread atop the mussels, confirm this.
The Mark: 14K has a lot going for it, as a pre-theater dining experience: it’s proximity to the Studio theater; the variety offered on the bar menu; the selection of by-the-glass wines; the value for the money. Yet, it also has a few major distractions… the pace of the kitchen and staff attention left a lot to be desired…and should be avoided before an evening or matinée show. For a leisurely meal, with patio dining, 14K deserves a second chance.