Ever since Legume left South Braddock Avenue to move to Oakland, I’ve been hopeful that a chef with vision and a sense of culinary adventure would occupy the vacated space. Chef Keith Fuller, formerly of Six Penn Kitchen, jumped at the opportunity to open his own restaurant, Root 174 on the popular east end street.
On Tuesday night I had the opportunity to attend opening night.
I arrived for my 6:30 reservation 15 minutes early, and was promptly seated by the restaurants’ manager, Will. He thanked me for coming, and provided me with a menu. As I glanced over the specials on the hanging blackboard, a server appeared in his perfectly pressed black Root 174 apron. He explained the culture of the restaurant, and philosophy of Chef Keith. The wait-staff at Root are all professionals; versed in current culinary lingo, they’re clearly foodies themselves.
Root is a small, intimate restaurant with wooden tables and comfortable chairs. The walls are warm and golden, and the floors are tiled. The lighting is soft, and indirect.
When trying a restaurant, it’s always a good idea to have a few starters to get an idea of the Chef’s cooking style. My dinner guest and I ordered the grilled watermelon, frisee, olive, and feta salad with balsamic ($10.00). We also chose the pork belly with crisp rice treat, coconut-banana puree, with strawberry-apple slaw ($8.00).
Our appetizers were served on long, rectangular plates. The bright colors and artisanship of the presentation was impressive. We dug into the watermelon salad first. Although the melon was grilled, it still retained its firmness. The char of the grill brought out the sugar in the summer fruit- delicious. The balsamic reduction was sweet and tangy; off-setting the bitterness of the seasoned frisee and feta cheese- so far so good.
The pork belly came on a rice-treat, the tasty snack you had growing up as a kid. Although sweet, the rice cake had savory components as well, and worked well with the soft pork. The coconut-banana puree and strawberry-apple slaw were light and refreshing; perfect for this hot summer evening.
Other appetizers include confit wings, mussels, day-boat sea scallops, and vegan refried black beans. Seasonal soup is also available.
For our main courses, we decided on falafel with Israel couscous, pickled cucumber and scallion served with black cardamom yogurt ($15.00), and the ricotta gnocchi served with peas, parmesan, wild mushrooms, egg, and cherry tomato ($19.00).
Large balls of falafel arrived, perfectly browned. The outer crust of the falafel was crunchy and hot- the inside was creamy, and distinct with a touch of spice. The cold couscous salad was light and flavorful. The yogurt sauce cut the heat just enough, and left me wanting more.
The Ricotta gnocchi was next. Served in a small bowl, with a perfectly cooked over-easy egg on top, it looked amazing.
“Would you like to try this?” my dinner mate asked.
Of course I would.
The first bite of this dish was one I wouldn’t soon forget. The potato dumplings were light and soft. The peas, and wild mushroom tasted fresh and vibrant; the cherry tomatoes were naturally sweet. Once pierced, the soft yolk seeped over the potato-pasta and created a rich sauce. This was by far the best gnocchi I had ever tasted.
Wahoo, “zucchini linguini”, grilled hanger steak, vegan vegetable cakes, and chicken breasts with popcorn grits are additional entrée items.
“Try the chocolate espresso cake, it’s sexy… I just saw it in the kitchen and told myself, that’s a sexy dish…”” Will, the manager said.
Ok. One chocolate espresso cake please.
A small bundt cake was placed in front of us with cherry compote, fresh thyme, Chantilly cream and vanilla-rum chili sauce. Sweet and intense, it was a perfect finale to our meal.
Root 174 is not a trendy restaurant; trendy eateries come and go, this place is here to stay. The food is great, and the changing menu will provide diners with a diverse selection of food to sample over the coming months.
And be sure to keep an eye out for the chef, Keith… he’s the one with the red head-band, tattoos, and black chefs coat making rounds in the dining room.
Chef Chuck Kerber