The new spot inside the Boston Hotel Buckminster, at the Kenmore Square corner where Brookline Avenue, Beacon Street, and Commonwealth Avenue all meet, is appropriately trying to be many things to many people. Fenmore American Bistro is open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, there's music on weekends, the staff is genuinely friendly, not a single menu item shrieks molecular gastronomy or anything related to tortured plate presentations, and the room (very West Elm, light and inviting), has the advantage of large Old Boston windows. The Buckminster building was built in 1897.
Breakfast needs work (more on this later), but at dinner, chef Jose Rivera is thinking. A heaping plate of fish and chips ($15) is crunchy with morsels of moist flaky fish in a golden crust. Chips are piping hot and slender, slaw is vinegary with a nice balance, and only the tartar sauce seasonings are too wimpy. A Southwestern burger ($12) is delightfully hot, packed with jalapenos, guacamole, and melty Jack cheese with a fine, juicy patty and tender bun. Accompanying fries in a fetching rectangular wire basket are the "coated" kind, which means dipped into potato starch and seasonings to amp up flavor and stay crunchy longer. An Angus beef burger is as good as the Southwestern (ground from prime rib and sirloin, says general manager Loren Schrader), and perfectly cooked.
A classic Caesar ($5 and $8, add chicken for $5, salmon $7, steak tips $8, or shrimp $8) has bright greens with a pleasingly cheesy dressing, though the croutons should be toastier. Cobb with avocado, caramelized onions, bacon, and cheddar ($6 and $10), is another appealing bowl.
Korean barbecue wings ($10) are sticky sweet and luscious; they also come boneless, but what fun are wings without the bone-gnawing part? Fenway flatbread ($9) is a slab of seriously underdone pizza-style dough with caramelized onions, tomato, artichoke, goat cheese, and tired arugula.
A place that can make quite good burgers, a nice piece of grilled salmon ($16), fine fish and chips, and more, also sends out these breakfast items: flabby, pale whole-wheat toast (we requested extra dark) that isn't good grainy bread to begin with, lukewarm home fries that taste like they began life in the freezer section, an overcooked omelet, delicious but excessively greasy quesadilla with ice-cold salsa and guacamole. And more. Tea comes in a bag.
At lunch, a shrimp BLT ($14) with pesto is delicious, but takes forever to arrive, as does seared tuna on greens ($15) with a nice ginger-soy vinaigrette and crisp wonton julienne, but the fish is cold and tasteless.
And then another highlight: The seasonal dessert, which changes often (labeled "made from scratch") is a sticky toffee pudding ($6), a lovely little round of cake with dark caramel sauce and vanilla bean ice cream.
"This is Applebee's with better ingredients," whispers a friend.
Well, it's welcome here. Not every Sox fan, BU parent, and tourist can afford the higher-priced options in Kenmore Square. When breakfast and lunch at the new bistro measure up to dinner, Fenmore, in its stunning 19th-century building, will be sitting pretty.