I recall vividly the 1st time I ever had lardo, or cured fatback. It was 1998; I was in Italy for the 1st of what would be many starry times, seated on a restaurant patio with the cliffs of Amalfi to one side of me, the sparkling Mediterranean to the other. The view was basically something like this (to show off a snapshot of Positano I took about 6 years ago. Italy, you may be aware, doesn’t generally suck.)

My man at the time had ordered it knowing a) full well what it was & b) that I might not touch it—obviously this was a lifetime & a whole different set of aesthetics ago—if I knew what it was; by the time he confessed, I was hooked. Like all good fats—extra-virgin olive oil, farmstead butter, & for all I know whale blubber—it has as much flavor as it does the obvious advantage of unctuous texture, albeit one that’s surprisingly complex & fleeting: one moment it seems delicate & floral, the next animal & funky.

And that constantly morphing essence, enhanced by salt & set off by fresh rosemary, is beautifully showcased on The Kitchen [Next Door]‘s grilled flatbread wedges.

The lardo is unusually crumbly even as it’s melting, layered between the thin, crunchy, pita-like (as opposed to puffy, chewy, naan-like) flatbread, sliced laterally & into wedges. When something so simple, with so few ingredients, registers & satisfies on so many levels—well, that’s what classics are made of.

Of course, The Kitchen’s forte has always been vibrancy by way of purity; it was doing farm-to-table fare before anyone remembered what farms were, & it remains a standard-bearer of the genre now that practically everybody tends a potager or piece of pasture. Case in point: the veggie antipasti.

Currently, it’s a mélange of perfectly roasted carrots & beets, respectively cumin-scented & salty-sweet; tangy, vinaigrette-marinated kidney beans & cannellini with onions; & Moroccan-style stewed chickpeas & tomatoes, plus grilled bread. So sunny for being so rootsy.

That same kidney-cannellini mixture gives earthy heft to the ultra-refreshing salmon salad—which, over lemon-spritzed arugula, is creamy but not too thanks to the firmness of the flaked fish & the crunch of diced celery & onion.

I didn’t try pal H’s chilled, herbed cucumber soup with toasted-caper garnish, but it sure looked swell.

There’s a lot more I’d like to try; the menu’s grazer-friendly, & the space has a more laid-back feel than that of the flagship, fine as it is—rather like that of the spanking-new Denver branch. Think I’m falling for The Kitchen all over again.

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