FLAVOR AND CONTRAST Short ribs.
Great ambition is most effective when it is finely focused. So should it worry us that the folks who brought us Novare Res — a venture built around a singular obsession with beer — has opened a new restaurant with so many aspirations that they just went ahead and named it after the infinite? The new place on Commercial Street seeks to combine high-end design, ambitious cuisine, craft cocktails featuring liquor distilled in-house, and of course beer, most also brewed on-site.
It shouldn't worry us too much: In'finiti is not a complete success, but given the scope of its aspirations there's good promise early in the run. Novare Res improved over time, adding an appealing and affordable menu to its long list of mostly expensive beers. In'finiti, by contrast, has plenty of $5 pints of interesting local beer, but the food menu is a bit spottier, pricier, and struggles to find a balance between something pub-like and fine dining.
At Novare Res the space is handsomely low-slung, with a leafy beer garden that feels tucked away in the middle of downtown. In'finiti is its opposite: a large space with a raised dining room, and filled with dark wood, leather, and showy design. That design works best at the bar — a long one spotted with quirky taps, fancy devices for manipulating ice, and backed by a glassed-in room of great-looking copper stills and other distillery equipment. There is a nice deck out back looking over the water. As it is at Novare, the service at In'finiti is desultory at best — including a wait of more than ten minutes for a beer to arrive while our entrées cooled.
Appropriately for a spot that will eventually feature its own liquor, the cocktails are imaginative and showy — especially those served with a single globe of ice, designed to look great while cooling your drink with minimal watering-down. It worked in the house version of an old fashioned, which used cinnamon syrup along with the fruit and bitters to enhance the bourbon's natural sweetness. Another drink made with rye featured a terrific bitter-sour flavor of rhubarb.
The beer list surprises by going the other way: rather than big showy flavors, they are mostly easy-drinking lagers and pilsners. The Belgian-style Primus was crisp and a touch sweet. A Won IPA did not smack you with bitter hops, but rather drew you in with a subtler mix of tart, bitter, and sweet. A crisp Czech-style pilsner was sweeter than what I remember in Prague, and a sour brown ale was downright puckering.
While the food is not at the same level as the drinks, there are some good points to build on. One appetizer featured little fried quail eggs perched over latke and a thick slice of chorizo — a nice mix of spicy and rich that would have worked better if the creamy yolk had run a bit more freely. Eggplant caponata had a sour garlicky sharpness and an interesting mix of smooth textures.
There is a pretzel theme throughout the menu. Pretzel dough worked better as crust over several juicy chicken breasts than as a crust for a pizza whose fig-sweetness overwhelmed the sour, bitter, and salt promised by lemon paste, prosciutto, and arugula respectively. You can also get a pretzel with a hoppy IPA mustard.