Frank “Kiko” Dutra, 37, is a familiar face at Boston Chops in the South End. The saucy server and bartender has been there since it opened six years ago, after waitering jobs at the Franklin Restaurant Group. He came to the United States from Brazil in 2002, joining family members and enrolling in ESL classes. His first job was at Boston Market — “I ate a lot of stuffing and mac and cheese and gravy,” he says. Next, a friend suggested he apply to work at Michael Schlow’s now-closed Italian restaurant, Via Matta. “Then I started dating someone, and so I stayed in Boston!” he says, much to the delight of his loyal customers.
What’s the first restaurant you ever ate at in Boston? Via Matta at 79 Park Plaza. This was in 2002. I want to say I ordered aglio e olio con pomodoro, a pasta. I loved it!
What’s one thing you’d like to fix about the restaurant industry here? I feel like there are so many restaurants coming up all the time. So many get opened and don’t live. They somehow die after a little while. The lack of staff is hurting Boston because there are so many people who want to open restaurants, but they don’t have the staff, knowledge, and experience to make them live.
How has the restaurant landscape changed since you arrived in Boston? The industry was so different then. There weren’t as many restaurants! Now, there are so many, the competition is so high. . . . Also, you know, the neighborhoods in Boston are so different now. Now, you have the waterfront, which is a destination. You have Back Bay, which has been through the years where tourists go more, and also you have the South End, which has been expanding. And Somerville, Dorchester. Boston is just growing, and therefore, there’s more space for restaurants. When I first moved here, I felt like I was in a bubble. I never explored going to different places. Now, we have more options. I lived in Allston and hung out in Brookline!
What other restaurants do you visit? I like going to Bar Mezzana. I hang out at places I can get to toward the end of the night. I go to the Franklin, Moonshine 152, and I go to Anchovies a lot. That is definitely a destination — I go a lot, a lot, a lot! I should explore more of Cambridge. I do go to Harvest.
What’s your earliest food memory that made you think: I want to work in restaurants? So, my dad was a pastor and also he owned a butcher shop in Brazil. My mom was a librarian and mother of seven. She helped my dad a lot. Not just helped — she actually worked with him. So I remember my mom one day making chips out of tripe. I was like, “What? I had no idea what you just made was tripe! I thought it was chips!”
That day I was like, you know, I’m going to serve this to my friends. If my mom could trick me, I could trick my friends. They thought they were delicious. I told them, and they were grossed out. But, you know, they were delicious! There’s something there. That’s how I felt I should be in the restaurant industry.
What’s the worst restaurant experience you’ve ever had? Recently I went to a restaurant. I got there with a friend of mine, a manager at Boston Chops, and we specifically told the person behind the bar that we wanted to order food. [This was] 20 minutes prior to the kitchen closing. The bartender was busy, forgot to take our order, then came up to us and said, “I’ve got to take your order.” Yeah, we’ve been waiting for 15 minutes! The food was not good. For having a late-night menu, the purpose of the place being there, catering to the industry late at night, I just felt like I was neglected and rushed to order. The food was bad. The service was bad. I ordered scallop ceviche, which had no citrus. What’s a ceviche without citrus? I had bone marrow that was served as brunch — with maple syrup, with almost French toast on the side. Maybe if I’d smoked a joint I would have understood it.
How could Boston become a better food city? That’s a hard question! It’s grown so much; it’s already becoming a better food city. Boston can become better by letting itself grow. Let more opportunities appear, and different styles and types of people. It’s always the same people opening the same restaurants. That’s possibly why some of them don’t live, which is sad.
Name three adjectives for Boston diners. Oh, God, I’m not getting salty at all! Generous, and needy when they expect me to know exactly what they’re going to order. I use a cheesy joke: “I didn’t bring my crystal ball in today!” I can’t know what you want automatically. Can we just communicate here? I’m trying to get salty. I’m being too nice! Fun. I have fun with my guests! If I’m not having fun, why even do it?
What’s the most overdone trend right now? I grew up with a mother who made anything out of avocados. I’m a little over avocados, even though they’re good for you! Avocado toast, avocado anything, done! I see it in every restaurant. Anything avocado bugs me!
What are you reading? Oh, my God. I’m reading a dinosaur book. I was at my doctor the other day, waiting for the follow-up, and some girls came by with a bunch of books. This dinosaur book caught my attention. I also have “The Joy of Mixology.” But really, a dinosaur book. I don’t know. I’m being nerdy. They were giving it away!
How’s your commute? My commute is absolutely amazing. I live two blocks away from where I work, and I still somehow manage to be late sometimes. I walk to work.
What’s the one food you never want to eat again? Oh God, this is so bad. I’m going to say lamb racks. I’m not a huge fan of game. Too gamey for me. I can think of a million things I want to eat.
What kind of restaurant is Boston missing right now? More barbecue. Even lamb racks!
What’s your most missed Boston restaurant? Pho Republique. I loved Sage, Radius, Great Bay. But I’ll say Pho Republique — when the South End, especially Washington Street, was just hidden. I’d get out of work from Bay Village and shoot over to Pho Republique. It was such a beautiful place, the atmosphere was great, and I loved going there with my friends. I miss Pho Republique.
Who was your most memorable customer? This lady named Judy who works for the city of Boston, and she walks in with all these bracelets, all this flair. She’s just amazing, and every time she shows up, people know her. She’s so positive and so beautiful. She tells me, “Oh, I’m coming from Stella. I’m on my way to Mistral! Earlier I was at No. 9.!” She has one glass of wine, one glass of pinot grigio, everywhere she goes. She has a bar comp tab at my bar, and I think she has it everywhere she goes. She lights up the bar.
If you had to eat your last meal in Boston, what would it be? Wow. This is crazy, but I’d go to Chinatown and have tempura fried lobster at the Golden Leaf. I had it last week; I ordered it, and it was magical. As I was going through the cracklings, part of my crown was missing. I had swallowed half of my crown! Which I was totally fine with. I was satisfied with the lobster.
Kara Baskin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.