Behind the Velvet Ropes 

Bling and Booze at the Chesterfield

East Burnside's newest nightspot, the Chesterfield, is housed in a bright red building that has been certified LEED Platinum; that is, designed to the most rigorous environmental standards. This should give the Chesterfield a certain degree of credibility with the sustainability set—yet there's a distinct sense that the Chesterfield's clientele isn't exactly concerned about their carbon footprint. The bar seems to appeal to the downtown weekender crowd, and the whole shebang is a cut or two blingier than you might expect to find on the Eastside.

The space itself is a little... overwhelming. Any one of the many design concepts could be unpacked to good effect: the cute, psychedelic chairs; the light show behind the bar; the skateboard-influenced murals and chandeliers; and the high black-walled DJ booth. Taken all together, though, the effect feels unfocused. There's also an obvious problem with the two-person tables, which are simply too long to permit conversation in the noisy bar, while the red velvet ropes out front need to just go back to LA where they belong.

Whether a bar caters to my crowd or not, I can be persuaded to eat just about anywhere, if the food is good enough. The Chesterfield has a ways to go on this front, but it's certainly not hopeless. It's obvious that the kitchen is serious about food; or, more precisely, wants their food to be taken seriously. The presentation and execution of many dishes, though, suggest that ambition outstrips culinary rigor. The seared cod salad is a confused, unappealing mess of butter lettuce, crunchy Chinese noodles, and a miniscule portion of vinaigrette-saturated cod, while a sandwich of arugula, onion, and mozzarella wasn't as good as it should've been, given the simplicity of the ingredients. The hot and sour soup, meanwhile, tasted as though it had strayed onto the wrong continent, resembling tortilla soup more than any hot and sour I've ever had.

However, the menu is hardly irredeemable; indeed, some items are quite good. The "trio of savory flan" was a standout: Three types of flan—roasted garlic, mushroom, cauliflower—boasted a crisp exterior around a rich, custardy center. The flank steak with lentil salad, too, was solid: The steak was a bit chewy, but sliced thin and served rare over a cold salad of black lentils and cherry tomatoes. Both of these dishes are straightforward, and sensibly priced at $7. Desserts, too, are promising; the chocolate-dipped espresso cheesecake is exactly as good as it sounds.

The Chesterfield's problems with the menu need to be addressed: The ingredients and concepts are in place, and certain items hint at potential, but the sloppiness with which many dishes are executed undermines the menu's high-class ambitions.

The cocktail menu, however, which consists of refreshingly unadorned variations on classic drinks, suffers from no such setbacks. A Shin Kicker is a simple whiskey and soda, dressed up with a hint of orange bitters; Miss Sassy Rack is a nice house twist on the Sazerac, a bracing combination of rye whiskey, sweet vermouth, bitters, and Pernod; the Salty Sauer combines gin, fresh grapefruit juice, and a salted rim. While the food has room for improvement, I could certainly be persuaded to head back to the Chesterfield for a drink—even if I have to cross a red velvet rope to get there.


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