I found myself in Ballston Spa this weekend with my dinner schedule wide open, and decided it was finally time to check out Next Door Kitchen & Bar. The menu has always looked intriguing to me – mostly creative “American” style cuisine with a few southern items like shrimp and grits or fried chicken, and a few plates with ethnic twists like harissa roasted cauliflower with preserved lemons or a duck and soba noodle salad. It was enough of a mish-mash of trendy things that it could have been disappointing or charming and interesting – I was never quite sure what to expect.
We started off with a couple of appetizers, including a butternut squash soup with a “burnt marshmallow creme,” ancho chili oil, and roasted peanuts. I’ve go to say, I absolutely loved the little charred and melted marshmallow in the middle. It added this lovely element of creamy sweetness to the otherwise very traditional squash puree. I could have used less chili oil (which didn’t really give a whole lot of spice) and more crunchy peanuts for contrast, but overall I thought this was a fun take on a soup that I always love to order this time of year.
An order of pulled pork and kimchi eggrolls was another surprise hit. I was ready to turn up my nose at kimchi – admittedly not one of my favorite foods – but thought the version here was very mild and paired nicely with the smokey bits of pork. A carrot habanero sauce added a light kick to the experience.
For entrees, I opted for a salmon dish served over a puree of leeks with lentils, fennel, green beans, and a mustard vinaigrette. The salmon was cooked beautifully, with a crust on the outside but a soft and tender flake to the meat. The dish elements were a nice mix of textures, from the heartiness of the lentils to the unexpected little bits of caramelized fried onion and the snap of the fresh green beans.
Of course we couldn’t leave without trying one of the southern dishes, so we also ordered a plate of “the best fried chicken.” A generous serving of fried chicken was plated with braised greens, pimento mac & cheese, a biscuit, and some apple butter.
I usually scoff at things that label themselves the “best” right out of the gate, but I’ve got to admit this chicken was pretty darn good. It had a nice crackling crust and tender meat with a buttermilk richness. And the mac & cheese with breadcrumbs – another point of contention for me – was actually delightful. Breadcrumbs aside, it had the perfect cheesy consistency without being over-saturated, and there was a great smokey undertone to the flavors.
Overall Rating: 9/10. I loved the ambiance in the restaurant, with its exposed brick and dangling lights. The menu is diverse and creative, and the dishes were balanced in terms of contrast and color. There is a lot of care going into the preparation here, and it shows. My only minor complaint was that some dishes were slightly over-salted, including a bowl of bean spread that was served with the complementary rosemary focaccia and was literally crunching with salt. But whereas some places will over-salt to disguise bland food, this seemed to just be a slightly heavy hand in the kitchen on top of already bold and innovative flavors. In general, I’m happy to report that Next Door Kitchen & Bar is serving up a first rate dining experience.