Second Bite: In Praise of Clink, the Liberty Hotel's 'Other' Restaurant

It’s not easy being Asana. Or Gallery Café. Or Intrigue Café. Or Henrietta’s Table, even.

All (for the most part) excellent restaurants, serving cuisine on par with the more celebrated eateries around the city. Yet they consistently get short shrift. What gives?

The problem, of course, is that all four spots, installed as they are in hotels, toil in the shadow of marquee restaurants helmed by celebrity chefs right on premises. Like a talented middle child with a more-glamorous big sister, Henrietta’s Table gets overlooked in favor of Jody Adams’s glitzier Rialto a few steps across the hall at the Charles Hotel. At the Boston Harbor Hotel, Intrigue becomes invisible next to Daniel Bruce’s Meritage. Gallery competes, albeit much more casually, with Dante de Magistris’s eponymous Dante at the Royal Sonesta. Poor Asana suffers under no less than Frank McClelland’s L’Espalier at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel (plus Sel de la Terre, just down the hall).

So too with Clink, the “other” restaurant at the Liberty Hotel, where Lydia Shire’s Scampo brings in nightly crowds of avid foodies and fabulous lobby revelers. Clink, just upstairs, gets its share of business, but not the serious gastronauts that—given the sophistication of the menu—it should attract. Luckily, the intoxicated drop-ins expecting typical pub grub can at least order the sliders (though, in this case, their stuffed with ground veal, ricotta, and sage, so they’re hardly typical…). The rest of the menu, though, is about as far from bar food as one can get.

Therein lies one of a few serious hurdles facing Clink: It’s doing really serious food in a not-so-serious setting with an unbelievably unserious name. (“Clink” sounds like the punny name of some wine bar in a suburban Holiday Inn—though, in that case, it would probably be possessified as “Clink’s”—not a gastronomic oasis in a hip urban hotel.)

Another is the restaurant’s inauspicious opening, back in late 2007, when the reviews, all pretty much spot-on, found little to celebrate about the uneven execution and schizophrenic menu concept. Although the more conscientious critics offered the caveat that the new executive chef, the talented Joseph Margate, had only been on the job for weeks (he replaced the opening chef), all most people saw were the 1 1/2 stars from the Globe, and the otherwise ho-hum reception from the rest. (Including Boston.)

More than a year later, Chowder went back for seconds, and the verdict is: Wow! Margate and his kitchen have found their rhythm. We took advantage of a special menu featuring meat from an acorn-fed La Quercia pig. A Pork Broth and Dumpling Soup was brisk, vibrant, and porky without tasting heavy—a truly masterful creation. Next up: Pork Salad with endive, citrus, cracklings, and pancetta vinaigrette, followed by a pork-three-ways plate, including the loin, shoulder, and belly moistened with violet mustard, and garnished with mizuna.

Nine courses later, with nary a fumble to be found (and a roast chicken dish that competes with the very best versions in the city), we wondered aloud: Can Clink make a comeback?

The food is good enough. But the restaurant world is a funny, often cruel place. Foodies who don’t mind $35 entrees have already banished the spot as an overpriced bastion of medocrity and head down the escalator to Lydia’s place instead. Hotel guests scratch their heads in puzzlement as they scour the menu in vain for the Kobe Cheeseburger or Grilled Chicken Caesar Wrap they sauntered in for.

After plenty of unsteadiness, Clink has matured into an excellent upscale restaurant with a sure-footed chef and, unfortunately, a puzzling name (the whimsical wordplay of which has long since lost its resonance) that sells its offerings short.

But stranger things have happened. Here’s to the the possibility that the city’s culinary elite will give it one more chance.