Kitchen on Common is a little spot I stumbled upon a few years ago and I fell in love. It’s not the kind of place you fall head over heals in love with, swept of your feet, over the moon and you might not come back. It is more like a little crush, that you can’t shake. You start to obsess about it because you can’t quite pinpoint what it is that makes you blush. It always surprises me that this little restaurant (that looks more like a café) in sleepy Belmont hasn’t been discovered yet. Hidden gem sounds a bit like a real estate term for somethings really good but something else isn’t quite right. This place has everything right. Perhaps the space doesn’t reflect the food, as it feels more like a sandwich shop or little café than a restaurant. Once you taste the food, the odd benches, and mostly empty display case don’t really matter. Kitchen on Common make their own pickles to go with the burger, which is a favorite of mine. Regulars can be seen on the verge of a meltdown if their favourite soup is not available and I actually understand how that can be so.
Recently, I was invited in to try dinner and was able to share the experience with some fellow bloggers. Not only was it nice to be able to share what I consider a local favourite, but I was able to try the dinner menu and realize that dinner is even better than lunch. This dinner was also a wonderful opportunity to get to know this very quiet chef a bit more.
Chef Joh Kokubo has been putting out some of the best food in Belmont for 6 years and only a handful of regulars and the occasional newcomers are in the know. With produce sourced locally as often as possible from Waltham Fields, Wright Locke Farm, and LexFarm, among others, Kitchen on Common’s root cellar and walk in rivals that of some of the area’s top restaurants. (Actually I’m not sure the kitchen is big enough for a walk in but it sounds good.)
As for meat, D’Artagnan may not be local, but sometimes you need a little D’Artagnan because the quality of their product is rarely rivaled. Niman Ranch is an other big name that isn’t local, but consistently provides really good quality meat. Locally, PT Farm provides chef Joh with his meat as well. The chicken liver mousse, which I would have called a pâté, served with cornichons, arugula, a rhubarb jam, pickled onions and grainy mustard is something I will go back for again and again. It was such a huge portion that after four of us had it as a starter, there was enough to bring home for lunch the next day.
For lunch, I love to get soup and salad or I’ll make a date with my favorite burger. The Kale and sausage soup is so popular that the chef said he can’t take it off the menu. In fact, I have witnessed a lunch guest or two have a near tantrum when they found out it was sold out or not available one day.
The roasted beet and spinach salad was served with not too sweet candied pecans and a delicious slightly creamy, salty Great Hill Blue from Marion, MA. The spinach was nicely dressed with a perfectly balanced vinaigrette.
For dinner, some of the diners requested a vegetarian option. Chef Kokubo had a special gnocchi which was served with a pork and lamb ragu and happily offered to serve the gnocchi with a vegetarian sauce including greens, roasted mushrooms, garlic cream & Pecorino Romano. The vegetarian version looked amazing and creamy, but I was too busy enjoying the earthy, meaty version on my plate to taste the other version. The sauce was not too rich, but full of flavor and the morsels of beef and pork just melted in your mouth. I had never had gnocchi shaped quite like this before, almost like penne, but they were still light and toothsome
We couldn’t leave without also trying one of the other main dishes, so the vegetarians had a taste of the vegetable tasting plate and the carnivores enjoyed a perfectly grilled Painted Hills Farm Bavette steak over mashed potatoes with spinach and a balsamic steak sauce. There is nothing fancy about this plate yet there is something special about each bite of Chef Joh Kokubo’s food. Like the chef, plates are unassuming, “clean shaven”, a quiet pleasant presence, but once you dig in, you realize there is much more than meets the eye.
Dessert is where I usually find disappointment. Even restaurants who have full time pastry chefs can’t usually impress me. I am not someone who sits down and jumps to the dessert menu to see what will end my meal. I hunt for the perfect salad, the star vegetable dishes that play the role of sides and some of my favourite foraged ingredients. Those interest me more than dessert. A few exceptions are desserts that Pastry Chef Brian Mercury creates at Harvest and the dessert I recently sampled at Sycamore in Newton. Two that duo I am going to add the desserts we had at Kitchen on Common. Like the food and restaurant, these were simple desserts executed perfectly.
Above is a lemon mousse served with a dollop of cream and a duo of Luxardo cherries. It was something I could probably eat for breakfast lunch and dinner all in one day (and I am not a fan of eating the same thing twice in a row). There was no single sensation (sweet, tart, creamy) that overpowered the other. Each taste was perfectly woven into one another and the dollop of cream and the sweet cherry worked with each bite to highlight the flavours.
For the chocolate lovers, this flourless chocolate cake, which had the texture of a dense chocolate cake but the softness of a pâté (it sounds odd but makes it neither too dense, nor too creamy) sat atop a puddle of crème Anglaise.
Kitchen on Common in in Belmont’s Cushing Square. There is plenty of parking on the street that is metered, or you can park nearby on a residential street for an hour or two depending on location. Starters are $5-$7, main courses are $13 – $18 and sides are $4. Portions are generous. The restaurant is BYOB, but if you don’t have time to plan ahead you can always pop into nearby wine store The Spirited Gourmet.
Kitchen on Common
442 Common Street (Cushing Square)
Belmont MA 02478