RFK Kitchen Opens This Weekend

Rachel Klein's highly anticipated debut brings elegant, uncomplicated cuisine and sleek city details to Needham Center.

RFK Kitchen and Pork with salsify

RFK Kitchen photo via Facebook / Pork with salsify photo via rfkkitchen.com

Needham’s dining scene is about to get a little sexier. RFK Kitchen, the first ownership venture from chef Rachel Klein, opens to the public Friday, October 14.

In the works for a year and originally anticipated as a spring debut, Klein says the timeline was extended by staffing challenges, as well as the full-scale construction project required to actualize a “big city feel” in the space.

“We want to open solid and get it right,” she says.

Klein, who has partnered with Francesco Melandri on the business side of things, has long wanted to open an upscale, but casual restaurant in the town where she lives. The Brooklyn native got her start in New York City before cooking in Providence, and started the Boston leg of her career a decade ago. She was previously the opening chef at Liquid Art House.

She has tapped fellow LAH alumni for the RFK Kitchen line, including Stephanie Cogswell (formerly of Regal Beagle, Barcelona Wine Bar, and a one-time Top Chef contestant), who is chef de cuisine, sous chef Quang Tran, and pastry chef Crystal Hovland, who is behind an in-house bread program and a big dessert focus.

rachel klein chicken

Photo by Toan Trinh for “Rachel Klein Comes Home to Roost

The menu will grow as the staff gets comfortable, but during opening weekend, signature items will help introduce Klein’s “comfort chic” cuisine. That means the first slices of her all natural rotisserie chicken, which will be the focal point of a forthcoming takeout spinoff. A whole bird is available for family style dining, or guests can order a half. It’s simply prepared with charred lemon and rotisserie roasted potatoes and shallots.

The fare is American, “with global influences and bold, really great flavors,” Klein says—think braised pork belly with Szechuan-style cabbage and pork cracklins, colorful carrot risotto with pickled snap peas and mascarpone cheese, and arctic char with and parsnip purée and celery slaw.

“Presentation is going to be really pretty, but we’re not looking to be a fine dining destination,” she says. There will be a six-course tasting option, but it will also be a place people in the neighborhood can visit multiple times a week for a burger, beet salad, or Thai-style chicken wings, she says.

Save room for sweets, like a cider doughnut trifle with cinnamon cream and apple gel, and baked-to-order chocolate chip cookies. Klein thinks the cookies will be an instant classic, sold by the half-pound with a glass of ice cold milk. “People want those thing that evoke memories,” she says.

The beverage program will also grow over time, with a focus on by-the-glass pours spanning Old and New World wines. Bar manager Corey Fletcher has a list of original cocktails, including the RFK, a negroni riff topped with blood orange San Pellegrino, the Fletcha, with Buffalo Trace, barrel-aged bitters, lemon and just a splash of simple syrup, and Pity the Mule, a vodka and ginger beer sipper amped up with mango juice and peppercorn-infused simple syrup.

Fletcher has a relationship with Clown Shoes Beer, which will eventually create an RFK Kitchen exclusive. The other three draft lines will feature local libations, including Harvard Cider Co.

The 100-seat restaurant has an interactive, 24-seat chef’s counter wrapping around the open kitchen, plus a 25-seat lounge area and 10-seat bar. Deirdre Cullen of 2MIX Interiors is responsible for the mid-century modern design. Behind the bar, there’s an textured, abstract painting, and Needham artist Ariel Shoemaker contributed a colorful mosaic for the host area, too.

“It’s a sexy restaurant,” Klein says, “but we’re not pretentious here. We’re geared toward the neighborhood, the families, the people who don’t necessarily want to go into the city, but they want to go out. I like to say, you can come in your Lululemon, or your Louis Vuitton.”

948 Great Plain Ave., Needham Center, 781-444-1792, rfkkitchen.com.