Sibling Rivaly, revisited
I recently got back to dinner here after a long hiatus, based on a report from a friend who shared my initial lukewarm reaction, then had tried it recently and thought it had gotten better. I think it has improved on some counts: service was definitely more professional, better trained. Bartending appears to have gotten more serious, as the cocktail list is no longer loaded with sweet kid's drinks but some well-balanced concoctions, though we didn't try them (Sazeracs at home first.)
The problem remains the food, which is very uneven and has some conceptual problems. Example: an asparagus salad in which the giant spears were rather overcooked, definitely overdressed (with a big puddle of what looked like Green Goddess dressing, which is trendy again, I know), and unappealingly composed to a uniform green color. The sopping puddle of frisee was especially unappealing, and had a fishy, off flavor. I did like the two deviled eggs on the plate a lot.
A charcuterie plate had some some scant shreds of very good Tennessee ham, but the salami on it was fried, an oddly low-rent, diner-ish choice; I would far prefer an uncooked bit of better salami. Both dishes promised fresh favas, a springtime favorite of ours. The salad had perhaps three of these, the charcuterie plate, not a one, though it did have three or four fresh English peas that were nice. We found that omission quite annoying.
Two successes: a couple of fat, chewy (unfried) pierogi stuffed with potato and cabbage, showered with duck confit (more like strips of sauteed duck breast, but fine), and sitting in a gorgeous, deep-flavored mushroom sauce. This was hedging my order, as I remember having pierogis here before and liking them a lot. A roast chicken special was also very good, a flavorful, high-quality bird very nicely done, crispy and juicy.
But crispy lamb brik dish was a complete failure, sitting again in a puddle of sauce (a very tired plating, I think) that tasted sharply of good veal stock, but completely overwhelmed the flavor of the savory pastry on top. This was a large (maybe 7" square) pastry whose size made it difficult to eat: two smaller pastries would have been more appealing and less unwieldy. The pastry crust was somewhat tough, not at all the tender phyllo crust I expect when I see "brik". The bigger problem was a lamb filling that was utterly lacking in lamb flavor. It could have been ground beef, turkey, veal, but you'd never guess lamb. A bad idea worsened by poor ingredient choices and woefully executed.
A chocolate fondue dessert had a very nice chocolate sauce but a lot of very stale cookies among its dipping items, plus some of those enormous, pithy, flavorless fresh strawberries with the stems on. The wine list doesn't feature many bargains, and clearly runs big markups, but wine service was proper.
We did not care for the extremely close seating in the dining room, which felt like one row too many of seats shoved into coach on airplane. We had servers' butts in our faces every time they squeezed in to serve or clear an adjacent table. At least we weren't seated in either of the two rooms on the left, which still look like business-hotel meeting rooms instead of fine dining rooms.
All in all, this does not feel like a South End restaurant. Its food still has a kind of corporate-restaurant feel, not very soulful, with some assembly-line qualities (which is perhaps a scale problem -- this is a big restaurant that seems to keep its seats full on a lot of nights). The crowd still appears trucked in from the suburbs, the kind of folks who drive in, valet park, and drive home immediately after dinner.
Prices aren't bad: four small plates, an entree, and a dessert came to $80 (before wine, tax, tip). It has improved in some significant ways. But the success rate on the food (2 for 6) means we are unlikely to return soon or recommend this place to others.
Always love reading MC Slim JB's write-ups and recommendations on this forum. Much appreciated!
I've only been to Sibling Rivalry for brunch, but actually liked it for that. Maybe a tad pricey, but not like dropping big bucks on dinner. Enjoyed it much more for brunch than Stella, Garden of Eden, Union Bar & Grill, or Tremont 647 -- for this meal at least, I'd place it on a par with Aquitaine, Metropolitan, and Butcher Shop.
Sorry to say that Caffe Umbra, which had a brunch as good as the best of these, is now gone.
I appreciate the kind words! I'm pleased to hear that Sibling does some brunch-like stuff; I was under the impression that their weekend daytime menu was purely lunch-like. I will have to give them a spin.
I too miss Caffe Umbra terribly. I heard a rumor that Laura Brennan will have some kind of role, perhaps just a consulting one, at the forthcoming Beehive next door to Sibling. I'm certainly keeping my antennae up for wherever she ultimately lands.
I'm really surprised to hear that so many people have been dissatisfied. I went to dinner with a friend on my birthday and really enjoyed it. We shared the foie gras/oxtail terrine, which had a really interesting presentation and combination of flavors. We both had the short rib dish with roasted vegetables and it's definitely one of the best short rib dishes I've ever had. The angel food cake in my dessert was a little dry, but the fruit was perfectly fresh and the vanilla bean custard was incredibly tasty.
Maybe they just need to work on their consistency.
I really like Sibling Rivalry though for me it's not a go out of my way kind of place, but more a regular spot since it's so close to home. I find the bartending to be mostly good (I'm almost always sitting at the bar) and I order the tuna tartare pretty much every time I go and it's really good. I do agree that sometimes the salads are overdressed.
the place is remarkably busy, especially considering its size. i've tried that lamb brik too. it sounded so promising. instead it was bland and greasy, sitting in a pool of uninspired sauce, which quickly made the pastry soggy.
any salad or pasta i've had there is always, to me, terribly overdressed. my overall impression is that 80s philosophy of just way too many components on all the entree plates.
for a snack at the bar, pre-show, the calamari and tuna tartare are terrific.
A friend and I ate at the Kitchen bar on Friday evening. We both had the asparagus/frisee/deviled egg salad - I really enjoyed it. The asparagus was perfectly crisp and the dressing was not overwhelming (not so much a puddle as a drizzle on the plate). I followed the salad with the steamed mussels and an order of the chickpea fries for dipping in the sauce. DC had the tuna tartar - which looked delicious! Our server was attentive and helpful - pointing out items that are passover-friendly for me. Now that the good tuna tartar is back on the menu I'll go back as soon as I can eat rice again!
I haven't been in a year, I guess, but I seem to be among the lucky minority, like Heather MB, who have had only good experiences with the food. The thing that bugs me isn't usually execution but the often familiar choices of ingredients for the "competition"--seems to me beef and tuna don't really count.
I agree I don't love the space enough to get back there often.
i agree with slim - i've eaten there three times - all of which have been lackluster. the food has always been good but not great, lacking a definite identity is a good way of putting it. my sunday brunch there stands out in particular. american dim-sum, most of which was greasy, cold, or overcooked. we (2 people) were completely shocked when our bill of $200 was presented! dinners were better, but it's not on my list of places to head to when i drive in to the city.
My husband and I were also at Sibling Rivalry Saturday evening. We had very early reservations (6:00) after seeing a 4:00 matinee next door. We chose to sit at the kitchen bar and had a great time watching the action. I have to say that I thought the bread basket was lacking with the exception of that wonderful cornbread. I agree with you about the pierogi. Really wonderful. Loved the accompanying sauce as well, although my duck confit was very dry. I had the swordfish special. The meat itself was just OK -- I enjoyed the sauce (a bit newburg-like), but the olive butter really clashed. The gnocchi were very good as was the accompanying arugula salad. Husband started with the fried calamari, very good. His scallops were definitely the star. Perfectly cooked; the accompanying cilantro pesto sauce was perfect. Also enjoyed the chile relleno. Husband loved his blood orange martini and I enjoyed my pear sidecar.
I have to say that I enjoyed ambience. Yes, it's not "south-end" like, but I liked the ambiance of the room and the color palette. We also really liked the chef's bar. Next time we go back, we would sit there again.
re: Trixie Too
That reminds me of a couple of other details: a really weak bread basket (though the butter was good), something I'd expect at a casual-dining chain restaurant, much of it stale. Also an odd choice on the otherwise lovely chicken dish: serving it on top of a kind of cold iceberg lettuce salad that just got lukewarm and wilted, ick. That's a terrible idea, like that hot croquette-cold sauce thing they do at BarLola.