The Remaking of Origin Kitchen and Bar
In the Duckaroni, a whiff of the new Origin.
Step into Origin Kitchen and Bar and you'll be clutched by anticipation. It shines down from the metal shop-light fixtures and oozes from the black grout that sets the subway tile behind not one but two bars. Origin used to be a coffee shop and take-away for customers craving quick, stress-free meals that were easy on the waistline and good for the heart. It's grown into a full-service restaurant complete with a young, attractive wait staff, a bustling kitchen and a competent cocktail program.
If you got to know Origin in its larval stage, you won't recognize a thing these days. Picture the ghosts of reach-in refrigerators, stacked full with containers of carefully prepared and portioned gluten- and dairy-free meals, a coffee counter and minimal seating. Walls have been moved to realize a complete metamorphosis, and bathrooms have been pushed back to accommodate a long row of booths along one wall, mirrored by an open kitchen and split bar.
The soft marble of either bar makes a fine stage for a meal, with your choice of pyrotechnics and careful plating as your backdrop on one side, or tinctures and vigorous cocktail shaking on the other. Wherever you sit, make sure you know what you've gotten yourself into. There may still be kale and quinoa on the menu, but you're not in a health-food store anymore.
Order the duckaroni as evidence, and watch as a small cast-iron skillet filled with pasta, duck and melted, oily cheese arrives in a boiling rage. You might want to wait a while to safely take that first bite, so sit back and take note of the blackened noodles and crispy bits of smoked Gruyère that mark the surface. The crunchy and chewy textures mixed with the soft, cheesy noodles beneath will give your fork an excuse to dig a little deeper, and if you can practice enough patience to avoid napalming your tongue, the meaty shards of duck and pungent blue cheese provide a reason to scrape the bottom clean.
The short rib is another dish that won't help you chisel your abs for swimsuit season, but short ribs never do — especially when they're served on the bone, nestled in a bed of mashed potatoes enriched with cream cheese and smothered in a thick, peppery gravy. The green beans on the side may look like a countermeasure, but they're fried, so they're not.
Origin does stop short of completely shifting from olive oil and whole grains to butter and simple starches, and some of the best dishes here echo the restaurant's past. Don't miss the shredded Brussels sprouts, juiced up with lemon and seasoned with salty pecorino as an appetizer. And the pork tenderloin, which is quite lean (and a touch dry), served on a bed of shredded carrots and beets, with spiced apples and a tangle of undressed arugula. Salmon is healthy, and here it's tightly wrapped in grape leaves and served with a salad of the massaged kale — an ingredient you will no doubt hear more about in the future. The leafy green typically eats like rabbit food when served raw, but a vigorous rub down wilts tough textures and dulls harsh flavors. Kale just back from a trip to the spa: It's your kinder, more relaxed superfood.
Except the kale in this salad barely seems massaged at all, showing that Origin has some improvements to make if it wants to achieve its lofty goal of becoming a something-for-everyone restaurant. When Origin was a take-away, the business operated more like a caterer in slow motion, working out of a commercial kitchen in Addison. It didn't matter then if a dish was cold because it was headed to a refrigerator. When a plate hits your table in the dining room with a chill, it changes the tone of the evening.
There are other problems, in dishes that are over-salted, like an agnolotti served one evening, and overcooked, like duck pâté that was chalky and dry. The duck two ways was saved by foie gras rillettes that ate more like a mousse. Whatever you call what was served in that little glass jar topped with ancho-spiked cherries was a velvet-smooth duck liver revelation.
A skate wing served with polenta seems lofty here, if only because the ray takes on the unsettling scent of ammonia after being out of the water just a few days. Origin doesn't specialize in seafood, so things can sit around and what was served one night was so hot it could have been mistaken for bathroom cleaner.
Hit too many bumps in the road and you might wish you could visit the Origin in your memories, back before things got so complicated. The casual take-away and café earned a strong neighborhood following — so strong owners Jessica Myers and her husband Russell Aldredge were inspired to renovate and expand — but moving backward would be a mistake because there's plenty to like here.
Stop in for lunch and bask in a dining room filled with light and people eating massive, juicy burgers. Those short ribs are reinvented, now served on brioche as a sandwich that's destined to make a few friends. That kale salad is back, too, and while it's not massaged at all this time, it's served in a massive bowl, lightly dressed in balsamic, with plenty of quinoa and dried cranberries to chew on. You feel pretty good after eating a salad like that. You might try to run a marathon before you pick the kids up from school, do two loads of laundry and clean the grout in your bathroom.
Or you could just kick back and enjoy the sun as it pours across McKinney Avenue and sip on an espresso. It's served with sparkling water that will wash your palate clean with every sip. Origin seems like an especially good restaurant for lingering with a coffee, for obvious reasons. And if the rest of the dishes catch up to the front runners, Origin will be a very good restaurant for just about everything — from nurturing yourself with delicate greens to casting off caution with meat, cream and plenty of melted cheese.
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