Up the stairs behind the bar, at a table in a window overlooking the port in the mid distance, above the Federals and Victorians of Danforth Street, in a freshly painted space that feels like a showroom for middle class satisfaction, we spent a pleasant evening at District. Not much of an endorsement? Perhaps not, but I will go back, explore other parts of the menu, and there were aspects, or components of my meal I liked a lot. From the outside, District looks like a neighborhood bar, the kind of gin mill your grandfather sat in after working with his hands all day. Inside it’s an advertisement for pharmaceutical sales girls with rolling suit cases, a cap-teethed weatherman on the second date of two with an ambitious, if misguided intern, desperate to pay off her state school student loans, and just-divorced parents breaking the news of their separation to adult children, over copious glasses of California Pinot Noir. We were seated in the dining room upstairs, alone with a party of nine septagenarians. The view made me wistful.
The food for me fell short. And I am an insanely great orderer. Golden beet salad with local goat cheese and fried shallots ($7) that tasted like tobacco, in the best way; ribeye steak with bone marrow ravioli ($28). Solid order. And for my companion, steak tartare ($10) and duo of sausage ($23). Such a meat feast. He won this round and was very happy, which is fortunate, for it was his birthday, and you deserve an excellent dinner on your birthday. As others have reported, as I have seen, the charcuterie is plated very pleasingly, on a wooden board with cornichons and caper berries, grainy mustard and thin, crisp baguette slices. Pretty on its own, beside the raw steak, which is, to an unabashed carnivore, representative of all that is pure and primal. Here was all the sex that seemed to be lacking from an otherwise sterile environment. Maybe it takes time, and many happy occasions, waiters making plans after hours, fifth anniversary dinners, for a place to become imbued with the soul of humanity.
My salad I enjoyed immensely! Cubes of bright beet, curls of almost burnt shallot, bright, herbacious dressing coating fresh greens and a creamy dollop of cheese. That and the sticky sourdough served with an earthy chick pea dip was an auspicious beginning. Then the entrees arrived. Malcolm’s plate was replete with one, fat boudin blanc, a homemade sausage busting its casing, orange pepper pieces topped with melted cheese and more sausage, plus oven roasted potato. The accompanying red pepper relish was seriously sweet and spicy simultaneously, which perfectly complemented and balanced all the pork. My steak was large, more than two portions, doing a dead man’s float in bordelaise sauce. The marrow raviolis are two bites each, and they epitomize visceral and lusty goodness. Unfortunately, the steak was in a sorry state. Something may have been amiss in the open kitchen, because it was more than medium rare. The center was grayer, when it should have been so pink it makes red envy its nubile flush. I expect this treatment at the Sizzler, but not here.
In conclusion, I am once again stumped and confounded. I wanted to like District more than I did but am not making any sweeping judgments or passing pronouncements as yet. There are certainly reasons to have dinner at this neighborhood hopeful and perhaps a more narrow path to follow. Stick with the raw bar, offal and appetizers, I’m thinking. Have many cocktails at the bar. Go when it’s already dark. Be part of a large party. Laugh a lot, and loudly. There’s room there. Share food, eat off each other’s plates. I’m still waiting, wanting a place to go for steak. I love a steakhouse, with extra vodka in your sidecar, glossy red booths, lotions and a lighted makeup mirror in the powder room, waiters older than the oldest talk show host but younger than the last elevator operator in the western world, creamed spinach and a chocolate soufle. I should have known better. District is brand new, with more kinks than quirks, but just enough interesting food to make you think you want to return at some point in the not too distant future.
Updated 06/09/2012: District has closed its doors.