IF PAIRING THE CONCEPTS "soccer bar" and "American tapas" causes you a bit of cognitive dissonance, you're not alone. Those were the initial buzzwords floated during Radar's December launch, but things have quickly coalesced into a handsome, solid, modern American restaurant. Plates are anything but small, soccer is broadcast quietly from a couple benignly placed screens, and the food, though it draws from an international pantry, mainly comes across as upscale comfort cooking.
The casual dinner spot's long, narrow space is a corridor of raised two-tops and a dozen bar seats that face the open kitchen. Two group tables fill the front window bays, but for the most part it's for couples and solo diners. The atmosphere is warm and hospitable, and the service is friendly, thorough, and professional.
The open kitchen layout works well for chef Jonathan Berube and his assistant, particularly because the efficiency and seriousness of their work habits prove to the diner that veteran skill and care are going into the dishes. Watching Berube sift the cornmeal for his catfish filets between dredges—ensuring a fine, even coating—or go through a half-dozen fresh spoons while tuning a sauce, gives each dish a sense of VIP treatment.
I see a lot of blackened and blasted brussels sprouts on menus these days—hey, if it gets you to eat your greens—but under Radar's more traditional care the buds are blanched, shocked, and carefully sautéed to a light gold with simple, cleanly flavored, unsmoked bacon and an understated dressing of fresh mustard seed ($5). (Old, careworn copies of Larousse Gastronomique and Jacques Pépin's La Technique, stacked on a far bookshelf, look on approvingly.) Coarsely shredded red cabbage ($6) is sautéed with hazelnuts and cherries in a warm, strong, vinegary sauce, then covered with shaved manchego that grounds the tartness. Crispy potatoes bravas ($5) are served with a generous portion of the smooth, spreadable, and deeply spicy tomato sauce. The country ham croquettes with red-eye aioli ($7 for four) are rich and creamy, but with the chocolaty, coffee-flavored dip it's fat-on-fat, and they'd be more interesting with an acidic accompaniment.
Of the mains, the beef cheeks with smooth, earthy orca beans and kale ($10) is a comfort-food standout. What seems like a half-pound of meat is slowly braised overnight until it's falling apart, and served with a rich reduction of the braising liquid. (Given the size of the dish, it would still seem fair at twice the price.) Tender roast pork ($9) is served over loose, buttery cotija grits and dressed with a refined chile purée that reminded me of a chile colorado. A halibut-thick, moist, delicate filet of catfish ($9, with fennel, apple, pepitas, and squash purée) was executed perfectly, but it illustrated the menu's most consistent shortcoming: In several cases the dishes were under-seasoned, but with a light addition of salt (you have to ask for it) they awoke and came into focus. It's an issue that needs addressing—the catfish in particular went from a B to a solid A with just a few grinds.
Some dishes still need work. The butterflied, roasted chicken thigh with spaetzle and fried egg ($10) was juicy and crisp-skinned, but needed a unifying sauce or dressing that the yolk alone couldn't provide. The baby octopus served with delicious fresh hummus and chive oil ($9) was three bland, distracting animals that I wished were pita.
Desserts are limited to ice cream and sorbet, but they're house-made and function perfectly as palate cleansers (particularly the grapefruit tarragon, $5).
Berube and wife/co-owner Lily Tollefson worked with consultants to create a unique and exotic craft cocktail menu long on strong, generous drinks ($8-10). The Fairgame (Appleton rum, marmalade, lime, dry sack sherry, bitters, mint) was excellent: a perfectly balanced, thirst-quenching classic swizzle served tall with enough expertly matched nugget ice to keep it chilled but not dilute it—and drinkable enough to lead to a second. Another favorite was the Night Owl (Elijah Craig bourbon, Ramazzotti, toasted pecan bitters), a chest-steadying, sailor-strength wallop that packs about as much booze as possible into the equation without burning away the smooth caramel of the bourbon and the full, citrus nose of the outsized lemon zest garnish. The Cap & Kid (Linie aquavit, amontillado sherry, pear brandy, Lemon Hart rum), though, was just too strong: The distinctive butterscotch profile of Lemon Hart rum, nicely supported with caraway, quickly collapsed in the sea of alcohol, and the drink, served up, warmed too quickly.
While catchy phrases like "small plates" and "sports bar" may have appealed to investors, it seems the team behind Radar couldn't help itself and wound up a solid neighborhood restaurant focused on meticulously prepared comfort food and worthy drinks. Their investors should be thankful they charted a new course.
Radar is open Tues-Sun 5-10 pm, brunch Sat-Sun 10 am-2 pm.