What if you build a big, handsome restaurant serving beautiful, creative food and hardly anyone comes?
I wondered that each time I visited Tapestry, which opened in the Fenway in June and has the unusual feature of being two restaurants in one. Half is a dimly lit, faintly exotic, upscale lounge called the Club Room. The other half is a bright, airy, casual eatery called the Expo Kitchen. Each has a separate entrance, separate menu, and distinctly different look and feel.
Starting a restaurant is very hard work. Yet Tapestry chef-owners Meghann Ward and Kevin Walsh (they’re married) went through that process in duplicate for their debut restaurant, from developing two menus to designing dueling decors. This was a quintessential labor of love, and it shows.
The building, which was previously the rock club/restaurant Church, has a layout uniquely suited to a dual-concept restaurant: two rooms connected by a corridor. Traversing that short hallway feels like time travel.
In the Club Room, you’re transported to the Havana of the 1950s, when the island city, pre-Fidel, was a tropical playground famous for fabulous cocktail lounges and decadent nightlife. Palm trees, Cuban tile, velvet seating, a sleek four-sided glass fireplace, and a jungle mural lend a moody, sensual feel.
The Club Room’s food is an amalgam of the worldwide travel Ward and Walsh have done over the years — green curry with Brussels sprout leaves inspired by a visit to Thailand, Sichuan bouillabaisse drawn from trips to France and Vietnam, a one-pan egg dish discovered in Turkey.
Cross into the Expo Kitchen and you’re suddenly in a stylish beach cafe in contemporary Miami. There’s an open kitchen, gorgeous yellow-tile wood oven, dangling lights that resemble sea urchins, and lots of high-top tables and counter seats. The food here is bar bites and Neapolitan pizzas, and outside is patio seating with heat lamps and water bowls for canine customers.
In their own way, both halves evoke the Caribbean. “Can you tell we all want to live somewhere warmer?” jokes Ward.
On each side, the food is quite good, and often excellent, although better in the Club Room than the Expo Kitchen. Service is polished and knowledgeable (again, better in the Club Room). Ward and Walsh are talented, innovative chefs who’ve earned their bona fides; they met while working at Radius more than a decade ago, then went on to kitchens including Clio (where he was pastry chef) and Coppa (where she was executive chef).
Why, then, isn’t Tapestry attracting larger crowds?
I made three visits — one to each side, and a third for takeout pizza — and each time the place was mostly empty, even at prime dinner hours. Meanwhile, nearby Peterborough Street was humming. Thornton’s Fenway Grille, El Pelon Taqueria, and Rod Dee 2 Thai Cuisine were all bursting with customers.
Maybe Tapestry’s location is slightly too removed from the main action. Maybe its price point is a bit high for what’s heavily a student neighborhood; the Club Room’s appetizer-size dishes, designed to be shared, range from $12 to $18, and if you order liberally your bill can easily vault into the hundreds. The Expo Kitchen is cheaper, but it’s more for snacking than a sit-down meal. Ward acknowledges business has been unpredictable, with some nights quiet and others busier.
Here is what you’re missing.
In the Club Room: a vibrant fluke ceviche with crunchy jicama, enlivened by lime juice and habanero. Roasted cauliflower — a whole quarter of a head — brushed with anchovy-garlic-lemon-caper-yogurt-mint sauce. Wonderful carrots roasted in goat butter till they’re nearly creamy.
Grilled octopus is a miniature artwork. Served on a narrow cutting board, it’s a colorful dish dotted with cherry tomatoes and shishito peppers. A stuffed pumpkin, meant for two, presents dramatically: a whole gourd with its cut-off top functioning as a lid. Inside is a gooey mixture of Gruyere, wild mushrooms, and slightly gristly smoked pork shoulder.
We’ll skip Tapestry’s pastas next time. Linguine with clams is too al dente, a mushroom-garlic cavatelli-like dish oddly chewy (it’s made with burnt wheat that turns the pasta coal black). And cauliflower pierogi are too doughy.
But we love the surprisingly light chicken pot pie, a pipe-shaped puff pastry filled with giblets, turnips, and gravy. Braised beef short rib is perfectly tender, rich from sour cream, and invigoratingly pungent from horseradish.
In the Expo Kitchen, the food is much more casual. A giant fried turkey wing is a beast, like something you’d eat at King Richard’s Faire or the dearly departed Medieval Manor. The meat is very moist, its skin sticky from a glaze of Chinese condiments. Aleppo pepper and chile flakes give pork-beef meatballs the taste of spicy pepperoni.
Salty roasted potatoes are smashed and fried, leaving some wonderfully crisp and others with soft centers. But the short rib panino skimps on meat, and the cheeseburger is so swamped in goopy onion relish and French cocktail sauce that the condiments drown out the taste of the beef.
The pizzas are Walsh’s babies — Ward calls Neapolitan pizza her husband’s “obsession” — and they’re extremely good. The crusts are thin, light, airy, and perfectly browned. The margherita has just the right balance of tomato sauce, basil, and mozzarella. Sausage with broccoli rabe is nicely garlicky. Mushroom-taleggio could use less cheese, which overpowers the other toppings.
Tapestry’s dessert menu is the same in both halves of the restaurant. The best of the bunch is the “sweet bites sampler” with caneles (bland), macarons (delicious), and tiny ice cream sandwiches (the best item on the plate).
The other offerings? Eh. Apple tarte tatin is a bit mushy, a chocolate Bavarian not chocolatey enough, and the PB&J sundae too flooded with jelly.
Tapestry has many virtues. It’s very pretty. It’s ambitious, and generally lives up to those high ambitions. Its kitchen turns out memorable, original dishes with relatively few duds. It’s helmed by two accomplished chefs who have finally realized their professional dream: “We’ve been working our whole lives toward opening a restaurant,” Ward said.
Now it just needs more customers.
69 Kilmarnock St., Fenway, Boston, 617-421-4470, www.tapestry.restaurant. All major credit cards accepted. Wheelchair accessible.
Prices Club Room $12-$18 (stuffed pumpkin for two is $40). Expo Kitchen $7-$18. Pizzas $14-$17. Desserts $12.
Hours Dinner Sun and Tue-Thu 5:30-10 p.m., Fri-Sat 5:30-11 p.m. Brunch Sat-Sun 11 a.m.-2 p.m.
Noise level Low
What to order roasted carrots, chicken pot pie, Sichuan bouillabaisse, grilled octopus, short rib, meatballs, roasted potatoes, margherita pizza, sweet bites samplerSacha Pfeiffer can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @SachaPfeiffer.