OK, that’s a little dramatic. Honestly, it was a pleasure to dine in this gorgeous space in the Kilmer Building in downtown Binghamton, which just recently opened touting upscale comfort food. On Saturday night, Melinda, Corri and I partook of the bar menu because we decided our dinner choice too late in the day to secure a regular reservation at the busy restaurant. We sat in the ample lounge and enjoyed the hospitality of Steve, bartender/waiter extraordinaire, who we revealed during the meal, is younger than I. His great personality and willingness to chat despite the bustling bar elevated the entire evening. Tuesday night, Melinda and I went back, to sample the Binghamton Restaurant Week menu, which provided three courses for only $20. Such a deal!
The Kilmer Building is a classic, with elegant columns and elaborately carved moldings. It houses the chi-chi jewelry store The Goldsmith, as well as lots of law offices and such. A few years ago, I dined at Remlik’s spatial predecessor, Kilmer Brasserie, but did not enjoy the high prices or the mediocre French bistro fare. Remlik’s, which if you’ve caught on by now is Kilmer spelled backwards (or a semi-palindrome for you Jeopardy lovers), opened only a week or two ago, with an entirely new bar space and a fresh take on cuisine that is kind of unique in Binghamton’s bevy of Italian joints: global and (when possible), locally-sourced, comfort food.
Being forced to order from the bar menu Saturday night was actually a blessing, because I’ve been wanting to begin a series on BHS about bar menus in upscale restaurants, and this is as good a place to start as any. The joint was jumpin’ Saturday night, and we captured the last table available. It took some time for Steve to figure out we were there for the food, but once he noticed us, his service was exemplary all evening. In addition to Steve’s ministrations, our coats were checked by a lovely lady at the hostess station, and there was a delightful “bread girl” making the rounds, carrying a tray of cheesy biscuits and cornbread from which to choose. The biscuits were sweet and flaky, redolent with cheddar, and the very sweet, crumbly, fine-textured cornbread was a homerun. Best of all, she also left a little dish of perfectly softened butter. I have a pet peeve about restaurant butter pats straight out of the walk-in AKA Iron Butter, so I was tickled by this touch.
We began our meal with the house chips, which are thick-cut potato chips served hot with gorgonzola and bacon. The menu promised they would be garnished with gorgonzola fondue and apple lardon, but the blue cheese was not in a sauce form, nor was the bacon cut in the traditional lardon-style rectangular format, so let’s just call and spade a space, shall we? Nonetheless, these were delicious, salty, fatty and crunchy, as were the leftovers at home, which I re-crisped up in the oven and had for dinner Monday night. Remlik’s also sports a raw bar in the evenings, and we enjoyed six U-10 (industry term for colossal prawn-sized shrimpies) beauties with house-made cocktail sauce. A few of the shrimp were on the mealy side, but others were cooked perfectly, and the entire plate had great flavor and a crisp finish.
I chose the clams casino as my entrée, which were good. The six clams topped with bacon, spinach, breadcrumbs and cheese were not as generously-sized as the shrimp, but they were enough food for me. The consistency of the clams was not perfect – some clams were chewy while others were flawlessly tender and sweet – but the toppings were scrumptious and the lemon wedges coated in fresh herbs served alongside were a really thoughtful and tasty touch.
Melinda had the meatloaf sliders, which were hearty and well-seasoned. The slider patties were cooked well, with crispy edges, which were surprising but good. The balsamic ketchup that came alongside was a hit, the additional vinegar accenting the tang of the sauce. She requested sweet potato fries, which were great – reminiscent of the version I make at home – salty, with a slight crunch, but not so thinly sliced that you can’t get the texture of the sweet potato with each bite.
Sliding into a home run
Corri had the “almost-Carolina” pulled pork sandwich. While I didn’t taste the sandwich itself, the vinegar-based, North Carolina-style BBQ sauce that came with it was excellent. Tangy from cider vinegar and sweet from either molasses or honey, this sauce was loyal to the ones you find in the south, unlike the example at Bitter Bob’s in New Hope, PA from a couple weeks ago. The shoestring fries accompanying the sandwich were only OK for me, but Corri gave them a thumbs-up: they were homemade, but probably not double-fried, like I enjoy them.
Sauce so good, you’ll smack yo mama
On my second visit, for Binghamton Restaurant Week, of course our choices were more limited – soup or salad for an appetizer, three entrees, and two desserts. Melinda chose the soup du jour, cream of broccoli, so I went with the tomato gorgonzola, on the recommendation of our waitress. This turned out to be the most successful course of the evening. The stock base of the cream of broccoli was outstanding, with a surprising broccoli depth the likes of which I’ve tasted before. The cream factor did not diminish the bright, rich broccoli flavor at all – we both loved it. My tomato gorgonzola was just as delicious, with bright, up-front summer tomato flavor and herbaceiousness. The gorgonzola was there, with little flecks swimming in the soup, but it was understated and subtle, and the salted puff pastry crowning the cup added texture and a little body.
Pastry iceberg swimming in my soup
Out of three entrees offered – chicken pot pie, meatloaf or BBQ pulled pork platter – Melinda chose the pot pie and I went for the meatloaf. Neither was particularly strong, nor were they particularly bad. They were both just fine. The pot pie was a somewhat loose chicken cream sauce with a few vegetables served over a pile of skin-on mashed potatoes, crowned with another disk of puff pastry and a pile of baby greens. The sauce was very subtly flavored – before Melinda unwittingly mixed it into the potatoes, I could taste white wine and probably a little tarragon, but once the potatoes entered the affair, they weighed the whole thing down and turned it into a heavy, bland mess. The texture of the pulled chicken was nice – tender and all – but there were few vegetables and the little pile of greens on top didn’t really add anything. We both agreed that the amount of potatoes and the configuration of the dish kind of worked against it, blowing out the delicate flavors and rendering everything starchy and blah.
Not up to my pot pie standards
My meatloaf was a beef and pork combo wrapped in bacon, served with mashed potatoes, asparagus and a mushroom gravy/demi. The predominant flavor of the meatloaf was good, like Melinda’s sliders from Saturday night, but the thicker format wrapped in bacon required longer cooking, drying out the meat somewhat – it was tastiest closest to the center. In addition, while I thought the sauce would be a red wine demi, it was very sweet. I love gravy so much that I would classify it as one of my top five favorite foods, but I left most of this one on my plate. The mash, again, was skin-on, and while they were fine, they needed something to elevate them from ordinary. My guess is that they were brought together with your basic butter and whole milk, and not much else, and I think, if your cuisine is upscale comfort food, with a menu featuring mashed potatoes quite predominantly, you need to make them a standout. Nutmeg, white pepper, light cream, or a higher content butterfat butter, would all be good steps on this path.
I really do love my meats in loaf form
Our desserts were limited to two choices – which for the grand total of $20 for three courses is fine – apple crisp or brownie. Melinda took the chocolate route, while I went apple. My crisp was served warm in a tiny cast iron crock, which was an adorable and thoughtful presentation that I loved. This was a solid and traditional crisp – with a punch of cinnamon roundness and some cranberries added to the mix for tart contrast. The vanilla ice cream drizzled with caramel served alongside was extremely high quality, but must have sat for a few minutes before being served, as quite a bit was melted when it reached our table. Melinda’s brownie was tiny, but we soon found out that was due to its intense rich, fudgy texture and flavor. It was served over a raspberry coulis with the great vanilla ice cream, again, largely melted. Both were satisfying, although I would have liked my ice cream colder, and Melinda noted that most raspberry sauce would have relieved some of the richness of her dynamo brownie.
A note about our service on Tuesday – it was not nearly as strong as Saturday’s. Our waitress, whose name was never given, was attentive bordering on obtrusive, but there was none of the warmth or personality we felt from Steve. We were seated at one of the two-top tables against the wall, which meant the quarters were tight, and her near-constant checking in, droll voice, and arms reaching across me to clear dishes every couple minutes did nothing to elevate the experience and everything to interrupt our conversation. While the table space is certainly not the wait staff’s fault, I was tempted to tell her to back off by about three-quarters of the way through the meal. In addition, the “bread girl” only stopped by our table once, depite the fact that I asked for more bread at one point. If the choice is to serve bread in this way – which I do think is a novel way to avoid wasting bread – she needs to make the rounds more thoroughly and often. The biscuits and corn bread pieces are very, very small, so there need to be more opportunities to avail yourself of them.
It would be a valid point to make that reviewing a restaurant in its first few weeks after opening is unfair. To be sure, the chefs are still gelling and working out the flow of the kitchen, and the wait staff is learning the space, pace and service. But I won’t lie when I say that after our fabulous experience Saturday night, I was hoping for more. Granted, many restaurants treat Restaurant Weeks as a burden rather than a blessing, as the reduced cost means lower tips and revenue, therefore they skimp on portion size, ingredients and the like. I would hope this would not be the case with an establishment just opened, but I can’t be sure. I just hope Remlik’s can work out the kinks, because they have an absolute landmine and a really uniquely-positioned eatery on their hands that could become an institution here. Overall, for my two dining experiences, I give Remlik’s a 7.5 on the BHS scale, which is a hopeful score and one rewarding the outstanding soups, house chips, and bar service, while noting that simple things like mediocre onion rings (which weren’t even worth mentioning to you) and mashed potatoes need to be improved.
I am recommending you give Remlik’s a taste. To be sure, there is great dining here, and just as any team needs time to come together and succeed, so does this one. For my Northern NY readers, keep Remlik’s on your list if you have a Southern Tier sojourn on your docket, and for my local comrades, book your reservations and don’t miss those soups. My personality is big; my hunger is bigger!