Kinkead’s or Knucklehead’s?

**UPDATE** (2/5/12): Kinkead’s HAS CLOSED.

Kinkead’s, the “American Brasserie” located in an unassuming row house just off of Pennsylvania Ave., can be found in DC’s NW corner.  It’s an interesting place in terms of design, with a dining area upstairs and a large bar/wine room encompassing both the ground-level and subterranean innards of the brick exterior.  After walking past the place on countless occasions, we finally decided to give Chef Kinkead’s menu a try with the influence of a LivingSocial deal.

Before diving into the dinner discussion on decor, menu, service and overall experience,we thought it would be worthwhile to explore where the restaurant originates, and the reason for it’s highly-acclaimed success (er, former success, but we’ll get to that shortly).

Kinkead’s is operated by Chef/Owner Bob Kinkead who, according to their website, is “a self-trained chef who began his career as a teenager, working summers in restaurants in Cape Cod.”  It’s very clear that Bob’s early days working from the shores of the Atlantic had a significant influence on his menu as Kinkead’s is predominately a seafood dining establishment.  Caypo does not recommend attempting to eat here if you are opposed to seafood, because other than the two non-ocean menu items, you may just be left with a plate of side dishes as a dining option.

Back in the day, from the mid-90′s up until the early 2000′s, Kinkead’s attracted a wide array of distinguishing culinary awards, recommendations and accolades.  Chef Bob Kinkead must have been proud, both from his personal career and for his restaurant.  Sadly, it seems Kinkead’s (both the restaurant and chef) are still clinging to prior achievements like the Culinary Ghost of James Beard’s Past.  The menu is old-school, and in serious need of an overhaul to get back to the basics of seafood cuisine, and get away from the fifty-nifty kitchen tricks common with upscale dining from the 90′s.  It’s no longer “stunning” to see food (no pun intended) crafted with cookie-cutter shapes, or impressive to experiment with an overly-expressive list of ingredients for an entree.  Seafood is supposed to showcase the main ingredient, not be topped with a bombardment of sauces and spices that mask the delicate flavors.  An example of one item that does work, that has not be overly-tinkered with, and was the best part of the entire meal was the Shrimp Cocktail.  The shrimp were HUGE, perfectly prepared, and some of the best we have ever experienced.  Why?  Simply because it was prepared to showcase the shrimp without the ingredient barrage given other selections.

The service.  Oh, the service.  For starters, the service we experienced during our evening dinner was the reason for the title of this review.  If we had to summarize our experience with Kinkead’s service, it would be called
“Knucklehead’s”.  On more than one occasion, we found servers in a “deer-caught-in the-headlights” trance.  Additionally, the bussers and side staff were more focused and preoccupied with resetting table clothes than they were at clearing tables and attending to active dining room guests.

Despite the outdated menu and the tightly-packed design of the dining room, it was the service that ultimately will prevent us from a future visit to a restaurant we really wanted to enjoy.  The servers, at least ours and another attending our neighboring tables, simply lacked life and felt dull.  There was no excitement, no passion, and a severe lack of caring about patrons.  The only explanation is that we think they believe they can continue to live off of the restaurant’s formerly acclaimed history, much like that ole’ high school quarterback retelling stories about his glory days from 20 years ago.  News Flash – restaurants that continue to live in the aura of past awards, fail to adapt dishes with the times, and accept a staff that live in a world of mediocrity, simply will leave you clinging to past memories that are worth minimal to future, recurring diners.  Many such restaurants in fact have already begun a rapid decline, loss of dining patrons, and cater more to the tourist crowd or those with dining room deal coupons to stay afloat.

Kinkead’s apparently was once a great dining recommendation, with an ideal location and a passionate chef.  Although it has fallen from its prior culinary pedestal, there are subtle hints that Kinkead’s could once again become a great restaurant.  For now, it should seriously consider a revamped menu brought current with modernity, and a few difficult conversations with restaurant staff (beginning with not counting your tips in front of other tables).

And for goodness sakes, get rid of those steel crafted candle holders from 1997 and the salt and pepper shakers on the table.  You know how to season food, diners should not have to “season to taste” if it is done properly.  Kinkead’s is worth a visit, but Caypo suggests allowing some time to pass before giving it a go.
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