First Bite at Savin Bar and Kitchen

By Annie B. Copps | Boston Magazine |

JUST ABOUT SIX MONTHS OLD, Savin Bar and Kitchen sits in a neighborhood undergoing the slow, early stages of a renaissance, and it fairly oozes eagerness. Formerly the locals-only bar Bulldog’s Tavern, it’s been transformed into a friendly and stylish room filled with the new locals — hipsters, young families, and business owners. What could be an annoying “please like us” ambiance, however, here feels both genuine and passionate.

The bar is busy, and those handling the liquor know what they’re doing without forgetting the restaurant’s more-humble roots. On “Red Sox Fridays,” Narragansett beer and Ballpark franks are the specials. Recent samples of a Moscow Mule ($8), a Lemon Drop ($9), and the sangria ($6 a glass, $24 for a pitcher) — not exactly chic craft cocktails, but cheerful choices nonetheless — arrived quickly and were appropriately gingery, sour, and fruity, respectively. Too much ice, however, left us feeling cheated.

The food offered both highs and lows, starting with a bummer of a breadbasket: parbaked, chewy dinner rolls with no flavor or personality accompanied by cinnamon-honey whipped butter — a ’90s trend not worth reviving. The kitchen lured us back in, though, with crispy calamari served with vibrant romesco sauce ($7), as well as fried goat cheese ($8, pictured at left), deeply golden brown and crunchy outside, warm and creamy inside, and finished with a drizzle of Jamaica Plain honey. Thai mussels ($10) in a buttery broth were cooked well but lacked any recognizable link to Thai cuisine — some coconut milk or cilantro would have helped.

The entrées have varying influences from around the globe, but were hit-and-miss in their taste and authenticity. Cioppino ($22), a spicy, garlicky seafood stew from San Francisco, was anemic. The rest of our orders — Guinness-braised short ribs ($19), beer-can chicken ($18), and salmon ($18) — were middle of the road, too. All were cooked properly but lacked vibrancy, a disappointing contrast to Savin’s enthusiastic staff. Still, even as it wiggles through growing pains, the kitchen hits enough marks to deserve the support of the neighbors, who seem to want very much for it to succeed.

112 Savin Hill Ave., Dorchester, 617-288-7500, savinbarandkitchen.com.